Plans to delay surgery for smokers and obese patients in York have been shelved pending review following a public backlash.

The controversial cost-cutting proposals by the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which included delays for non-essential surgery for up to a year for obese patients, have been described as “some of the most severe the NHS has ever seen” by the President of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).

The former health minister, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, also branded the measures as “outrageous”.

Under the draft policy, patients with a BMI of over 30 could face a postponement of non-essential surgery like knee or hip operations for up to a year unless they lost 10% of their weight.

Smokers would also have been affected by the plan. Photograph © Kruscha

Smokers would also have been affected by the plan. Photograph © Kruscha

Smokers meanwhile were threatened with a potential six month delay if they didn’t kick the habit for at least eight weeks.

The Vale of York CCG is in special measures, leaving it under greater central control from NHS England.

After the policy was proposed NHS England intervened, asking Vale of York to review the policy. A spokesman for NHS England said: “Reducing obesity and cutting smoking not only benefits patients, but saves the NHS and taxpayers millions of pounds.

“This does not and cannot mean blanket bans on particular patients such as smokers getting operations, which would be inconsistent with the NHS constitution.”

In response the Vale of York CCG issued a statement:

NHS England has today asked us to review the draft approach which we will now do, and will hold off implementing anything until we have an agreed way forward.

We will ensure any plans are implemented in line with national guidance, are in the best interests of our patients and are clinically robust.

‘Self-inflicted’

We took to the streets of York to ask people’s opinions. Philip Sykes, from Leeds, said: “Granted it’s for non-essential surgery, but I don’t really see how it’s going to save money.”

But North Yorkshire resident Julia Gibson hit back at the chorus of opposition. She said: “If anybody’s grossly obese quite honestly I think there should be a restriction on them going on and having surgery.

“I think it’s self-inflicted and wasting time for people like myself and other patients.”

A third of CCGs around the country have at least one policy in place preventing patients being referred to surgery based on their BMI, according to the RCS.

NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS foundations and trusts, warned that people should expect similar measures by CCGs in the future as governing bodies need to find new ways to make savings.

Jonathan van Kuijk

Jonathan van Kuijk

Jonathan became an undergraduate philosophy student at the University of York after mistranslating Descartes' cogito ergo sum to ‘ I think therefore I earn’. Now realising he needs some sort of income post graduation he has become Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper York Vision and writes about all things off campus too for YorkMix