I've recently been contacted by a number of rather upset patients that come under West Herts Hospitals NHS trust, who while waiting for their Op date for medical conditions have suddenly received a letter to basically inform them they are too fat and can't have the Op after all. The Trust have seemingly rolled out a new policy with a total lack of communication between departments, meaning even those at the hospital that should know about it......didn't.
As a regular reader & follower of the Column I used to write at the Watford Obs, I know one of the patients involved and was shocked to say the least when she contacted me on this matter, because while like most of us she could do with losing a few pounds, which she readily admits herself, she is not what you would describe as fat or obese.
When I started getting contacted by other patients with exactly the same issue I felt it needed bringing to public attention so that others can be pre-warned and hopefully in the meantime the Trust can rectify this faux pas. Most of the patients' stories were similar, that they'd seen their doctor, a consultant at the hospital and had their pre-op and at no stage had any concern been raised about their weight, they were just told they would be put on a waiting list for their Op date.
It's never easy waiting for an Op, there's the stress and anxiousness of anticipation and just wanting to get it over with, so when a letter dropped through one of the patients letter box they assumed it was a date and tore it open only to read that it had been decided their BMI was too high and the trust weren't going to fund the Op.
"I sat and cried, I think it was because it came as such a shock, I've been waiting for weeks for my Op date so this was the last thing I was expecting," she told me.
Another patient told of how they'd "broken down" when they'd received the letter. "I rarely ever cry, but they were basically telling me I was fat and it made me feel like rubbish, nobody had said anything to me about losing weight. Thankfully my family were home with me at the time and gave me hugs and reassurance, but I'd hate to think of someone vulnerable and on their own suddenly getting one of these letters out of the blue "
And that's one of the main reasons I decided to take up the story. It's Mental Health Awareness month this month, I've studied & researched all types of mental illness over the years, and I've also counselled & supported many with mental health problems over the years, so I'm fully aware of just how fragile a human can be, it can take nothing to very little to push someone with mental health issues over the edge. Weight issues are a very sensitive subject and while sensitivity tends to be pointed towards women I believe men are just as self-conscious and insecure when it comes to their size and appearance and it shouldn't be taken lightly.
The letters go on to say the patients have 4 months to lose weight otherwise they will be taken off the list. If they lose the weight within the time frame they have to go back to their doctors, who presumably will refer them back to the hospital again to undergo their Pre Op....again? Some of the patients contacted the hospital, only to be told someone would have to call them back because nothing was known about this. The callbacks revealed that it was a new policy the Trust were rolling out, criteria for an Op was now much stricter because there is so much pressure on the NHS and something should have been said to patients at the stage they saw the consultant ....... the only problem was, someone seemingly forget to tell the consultants ?
Another patient said "I may be a stone overweight, but I go to the gym, I'm extremely fit, don't smoke and don't drink and yet I can't have the Op? Does it mean someone that's 8 stone, drinks and smokes and doesn't exercise can have the Op? If the Trust are changing criteria or the way they deal with it, surely patients should be made aware in advance?
A lady, also just a stone overweight told me that due to the placing of a Cyst she was waiting to have removed, she'd been advised to also have a hysterectomy, but the letter she received says due to her BMI being too high, the trust will only fund the removal of the Cyst, not the hysterectomy?
"How the hell can that make sense," she said angrily
After listening to all the cases, I can only conclude that while it's seemingly being rolled out as for the patients own health & safety, A realist, some would say cynical me, can't help thinking it smacks of cost-cutting? Remember, if the patient hasn't lost the weight to fit the criteria within 4 months they are knocked off the list? And lets' face it losing weight isn't that easy, even for the die hards amongst us?
And it all seems rather shambolic, they basically tell one patient she's too fat to have the Op so she can only have half of it as they'll only fund part of it? .... Surely she's either too fat to have the Op or she's not?
Not being obese or overly fat has always been a sensible factor when it comes to Operations, nobody has a problem with that, least of all the patients that have got in contact with me, but it seems the goal posts have been moved without anybody being warned. What is now classed as being "too fat"? Under the new rules what is the BMI people now need to be to have their operations? Shouldn't patients be told at the start?
The way in which this has been rolled out and handled has quite frankly been atrocious and has caused a lot of upset to the unsuspecting patients waiting on their Op date letters, only to receive the "Too fat, No-op" letters instead. We all make mistakes and we are all aware of the pressure on the NHS, but I hope West Herts Trust will put this right? Firstly by apologising to all those that have received one of these letters, and secondly to rethink how they go forward with this policy.
If anyone at West Herts NHS trust would like to get in touch with me to comment, I'd be more than happy to publish.
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