Scotland's obesity crisis: Patients-in-denial cannot be allowed to silence doctors by taking offence – Stephen Jardine

We need to talk about the NHS. For the past 18 months, it has been dealing with the greatest challenge in it’s 73-year history.

Medical professionals need to be able to be straight with people about the consequences of a bad diet and over-eating (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

It is short-staffed, under immense strain because of the pandemic and doctors are “washed out physically and mentally”, according to the BMA.

What they all want is a pay rise and a holiday but instead they are being offered training in how to talk to fat patients without causing offence. Using the f-word in the previous sentence has probably already triggered someone but let’s press on because life is short. Especially if you are chronically obese.

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Last year NHS trusts received at least 62 complaints from patients about the use of so-called fat-shaming language. One was from a woman who objected to being told by a junior doctor that she was morbidly obese “because of all the crap you eat”. Another medic in East Anglia had to send a written apology to a patient after telling them “now go home and lose weight”.

In the wake of these complaints, the Royal College of Physicians is hosting a training course for NHS staff, where they’ll receive advice on discussing weight sensitively and without using stigmatising language.

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On paper that makes sense. As a society, we have come a long way when it comes to reducing offence and minding our language. That can only be a good thing and we should be proud of the way people are no longer verbally hounded simply for the colour of their hair or the size of their nose.

However, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. In Scotland, two out of three adults are overweight and obesity is now a bigger killer than smoking. The annual bill for treating it is up to £600 million with a wider economic cost of up to £4.6 billion in lost productivity. We are literally eating our way to an early grave with a giant knife and fork.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, believes doctors have a key role to play in stopping that. “A lot of people are in denial about their weight and doctors should not shy away from telling them home truths. Some healthcare workers may need to improve their bedside manner but there will be some patients who take offence at being told they are overweight no matter how sensitively it is done,” he said.

Every time I put on a certain pair of trousers, the struggle involved is a reminder of the weight I’ve gained over lockdown. That tight fit speaks to me directly. So what’s next? Are my breeks to be cancelled for tubby taunting me?

If we’ve reached the stage where trained medical professionals cannot speak the truth to patients about what excessive eating is doing to their own bodies, then the psychologically troubled have taken over the care facility for those with mental health issues.

What we need is more honesty with GP’s weighing patients and talking to them about the results every time they visit the surgery about any medical matter.

The worry is that medics will just shut up in the face of complaints. Why should doctors have to eat their words just because the rest of us want to eat everything but don’t want to hear about the consequences?

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