BMA conference - ‘Get junk food out of hospitals’

The BMA conference in Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The BMA conference in Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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CRISPS, chocolate and fizzy drinks should be banned in hospitals in efforts to tackle the nation’s obesity epidemic, doctors will warn today.

The British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh will hear calls for sugary and fatty products to become a thing of the past on NHS premises so the health service can lead by example. The call comes after figures in Scotland last week showed the number of Scots dying from obesity has increased significantly in recent years.

The Scottish Government statistics showed that obesity was mentioned on the death certificates of 212 people in 2011 – the most recent year for which figures are available – compared with 181 times in 2007.

Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra has tabled a motion at the BMA’s annual meeting calling for an end to the sale of “junk food” so that patients are not encouraged to make unhealthy choices.

The medic said this was an important part of getting the profession’s “own house in order” in an attempt to stem the growing problem of obesity across the UK.

In a piece published in the British Medical Journal today, the doctor said NHS sites were not the location for mixed messages on diet.

Dr Malhotra said: “An oversupply of nutritionally poor and energy-dense foods loaded with sugar, salt and trans-fats, fuelled by aggressive and irresponsible marketing by the junk food industry, has even been allowed to hijack the very institutions that are supposed to set an example and promote positive health messages – our hospitals.”

The BMA conference will also hear calls for the organisation to lobby governments to make sure that where sugary and fatty drinks are on sale on NHS premises, they come with clear health warnings.

Earlier this year, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges launched a campaign to make nutritional standards mandatory in hospitals, as they are in schools and prisons.

The debate was backed by Professor Terence Stephenson, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, who said the NHS had to act differently from the rest of consumer society.

“If the NHS is to send out a message that it takes the obesity crisis seriously, it cannot recreate the same unhealthy environment inside hospitals as exists on the high street,” he said.

Dr Charles Saunders, deputy chairman of the BMA’s Scottish Council, said: “People go into hospital to get better, so it is imperative that the food they receive there is healthy and nutritious. There is no place for junk food on hospital menus or other food outlets within hospitals.”

Earlier this month, Scotland’s public health minister Michael Matheson warned that the Scottish Government could use legislation to tackle the issue of junk food and its impact on the nation’s waistlines.

He told a meeting of NHS staff that the health service had to do what it could to encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle, eat healthily and take regular exercise. But he said that if the food industry did not contribute by making changes to their products then legislative measures could be taken.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Across the NHS we are supporting staff, patients and their families to eat a healthy diet. We have written to all NHS boards asking them to ensure healthier options are available from vending machines, by removing soft drinks with a high sugar content and positioning healthier choices more prominently.”

All medical trial results to be published

DOCTORS have called for researchers to publish the results of all medical trials – both good and bad – for the benefit of patient safety.

Dr John McGough, from the BMA’s Suffolk division, said there needed to be honesty and completeness in the publication of all clinical studies.

Speaking to the British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh, he said: “Holding back negative studies can influence the results of a few positive studies by making the effects of the drug, treatment or device seem more significant than they really are, and subsequently influence us to use or prescribe them.”

Dr McGough said negative studies were not less useful than positive ones and could be essential.

Delegates backed a motion calling for a mandatory register of all clinical trials of treatments intended for use in patients, and to make it compulsory that all registered trials be published.

BMA backs controversial end-of-life care regime

DOCTORS yesterday admitted a controversial regime to care for patients at the end of their lives was “not perfect”.

The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) has come under intense scrutiny after concerns raised by some patients’ families who said they were not informed their loved one was being cared for in this way.

The pathway can involve withholding food, fluids and other treatments from dying patients when clinicians decide there is nothing more that can be done for them.

Yesterday, doctors at the British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh defended the LCP as delivering “excellent” end-of-life care for dying patients. But they acknowledged it had not been without its problems

The conference heard some patients could be left on the regime for weeks without having their cases reviewed. And family members were sometimes unaware a relative had been placed on the regime, which can see doctors withdraw treatment, food and water from sedated patients in their final days.

UK ministers have launched an independent review into the regime, expected to be published within the next month.

Dr Mark Pickering, a GP in York, said some valid points had been raised about how doctors were communicating with families. He said there had been “senior clinicians unaware their patients were on the LCP” as well as “patients left on the LCP for weeks without any review or re-evaluation”.

“This led to many patients being fearful about end-of-life care,” he said.

Dr Pickering said financial incentives offered to hospitals to treat people on the pathway, as part of a system put in place to reward good practice, “risks a tick-box culture where clinicians may be tempted to feel that the job is done simply by getting the patient on to the LCP”.

He added: “The LCP may not be perfect, but it can be an excellent tool and if it is used well it will continue to serve the needs of dying patients.”

Dr Pickering called for better training for medics and a “culture of clear communication” between patients, their families and doctors. He backed a system of accountability to identify poor usage of the pathway.

Professor Baroness Ilora Finlay, a cross-bench peer and palliative care doctor, said doctors needed to be aware that the LCP was not a “one-way street”, pointing out that 3 per cent of patients put on it do not end up dying.

Delegates backed the motion supporting use of the LCP as a way of “delivering excellent end-of-life care for dying patients” and calling for trainee doctors to be properly educated about it.