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NHS set to pay slim club fees

PUBLISHED: 10:27 12 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:45 05 July 2010

Overweight people could soon be attending private slimming clubs paid for by the NHS.

People in Yarmouth and Waveney will be issued with vouchers, likely to be for WeightWatchers or Slimming World, if their doctor feels they need help with losing weight.

Overweight people could soon be attending private slimming clubs paid for by the NHS.

People in Yarmouth and Waveney will be issued with vouchers, likely to be for WeightWatchers or Slimming World, if their doctor feels they need help with losing weight.

NHS Yarmouth and Waveney, the area's primary care trust, is about to start a tender process for the scheme. It follows on from a pilot scheme in Waveney in 2006-7, in which 175 people were given vouchers for use with Slimming World

A spokesman for NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney said: “We ran a slimming on referral pilot scheme in the Waveney area in 06/07. The scheme was so successful that we are now looking to introduce it permanently and are about to begin a tender process for delivery of the programme.”

She said it was not clear whether the tender will be advertised or potential contractors would be contacted direct.

The PCT already runs an exercise referral scheme, in which overweight or obese people are sent to gyms, with expense paid by the NHS.

The government's “Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives” strategy was published in January and gave the NHS the go-ahead to work with slimming clubs. Across the country, more than 30,000 patients have already been referred.

The health trusts that are already using the scheme say that it is cheaper than weight loss drugs or surgery such as gastric bands or gastric bypasses. WeightWatchers charges £9 to join and £5.50 per weekly session, while Slimming World charges £10 to join and £4.50 per session, although the NHS usually receives a discount.

Slimming World and WeightWatchers say that patients referred by their GPs lose an average of 9½ lb (4.3kg) in the first 12 weeks. Caryl Richards, Slimming World's managing director, said: “The government's strategy acknowledges that many people currently face the challenge of weight loss alone. Most people know that in order to lose weight they need to eat less and move more - what is far more difficult is finding ways to support their behaviour change.”

Audrey O'Brien, head of service innovation at WeightWatchers, has said that the NHS has shifted its thinking about working with private organisations. “There is no one element of society that can be adapted to fix obesity. We have to transform entire lifestyles, and that's what slimming clubs teach our patients,” she said.

NHS Norfolk said it did not use private clubs like WeightWatchers or Slimming World, though it has other schemes to tackle obesity.

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