NHS bans surgeries for smokers, obese people
The British National Health Service (NHS) has provoked a firestorm by temporarily banning surgeries on people who smoke and those who are obese. Patients who smoke must quit for at least eight weeks before non-urgent surgery, and obese people must lose weight before the NHS gives the go-ahead.
In recent years, a number of areas have introduced delays for such patients - with some told operations will be put back for months, during which time they are expected to try to lose weight or stop smoking.
But the new rules, drawn up by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Hertfordshire, say that obese patients "will not get non-urgent surgery until they reduce their weight" at all, unless the circumstances are exceptional.
The criteria also mean smokers will only be referred for operations if they have stopped smoking for at least eight weeks, with such patients breathalysed before referral.
East and North Hertfordshire CCG and Herts Valleys said the plans aimed to encourage people "to take more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, wherever possible, freeing up limited NHS resources for priority treatment".
Both are in financial difficulty, and between them seeking to save £68m during this financial year.
No one denies that quitting smoking and losing weight are good ideas regardless of whether surgery is needed or not. But this move by the NHS has nothing to do with concern about the patient's health and everything to do with rationing resources.
Ian Eardley, senior vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said it was wrong to bar NHS treatment to any group of patients.
"Singling out patients in this way goes against the principles of the NHS," he said.
"This goes against clinical guidance and leaves patients waiting long periods of time in pain and discomfort. It can even lead to worse outcomes following surgery in some cases," he said.
"There is simply no justification for these policies, and we urge all clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to urgently reverse these discriminatory measures."
The senior surgeon said he was concerned that the latest rules were the "tip of the iceberg".
And he raised concern about the fact such policies meant patients were refused a referral without even seeing the specialist who should take such decisions.
The surgeon is correct. This is a classic slippery slope for the NHS, where anything in the future that saves money can be justified.
How about an age limit on performing any surgery? Is it possible in the future that treatment will be denied on a cost-benefit basis? If you're not contributing to society, will the NHS decide that you're not worth saving?
This is not a bug; it's a feature of total government control of a country's health care system. Decisions are made by bean-counting bureaucrats who don't really care about patients or their families.
It would be advantageous to remind voters about policies like this when Democrats, as a party, run on a single-payer health insurance program.