Doctors told 'don't say the F-word' amid complaints of fat-shaming

Doctors told 'don't say the F-word' amid complaints of fat-shaming

08/30/2021

‘Don’t say the F-word’: Doctors given training to improve bedside manner amid tide of complaints about ‘fat-shaming’ by NHS staff

  • The NHS received 63 complaints in 2020 about the way staff treated fat patients
  • But the number is likely to be far higher as some trusts did not disclose numbers 
  • The Royal College of Physicians offers a free two-hour course for doctors on how to discuss weight issues with patients
  • National Obesity Forum said doctors must not shy away from telling home truths

Doctors are being offered training to improve their bedside manner after dozens of patients complained about being ‘fat-shamed’ by NHS staff.

Some took exception to being told that they were an unhealthy weight, needed to improve their diet or were too big to fit in scanners or have operations.

The Royal College of Physicians said healthcare workers ‘must not be afraid’ to raise the issue because of the ‘very severe risks’ of obesity but they should discuss it ‘sensitively’ and avoid using ‘stigmatising language’.

NHS trusts received at least 63 formal complaints last year about the way staff spoke to fat patients, Freedom of Information requests reveal. But the true number is likely to be much higher as some refused to disclose numbers.

One doctor at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust allegedly told a woman she was morbidly obese and it was her fault because of ‘the crap she eats’.

An employee at West Midlands Ambulance Service faced disciplinary proceedings after allegedly saying that a patient’s ‘boobs’ were ‘not much to look at if you can find them under all that fat’.

Rachel Power, of the Patients Association, said: ‘Talking about someone’s weight can be a sensitive subject and health professionals need to take great care when approaching it.

‘They do need to be able to give patients honest advice, including about the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight… but it is never acceptable for NHS staff to be rude.’

NHS trusts received at least 63 formal complaints last year about the way staff spoke to fat patients, Freedom of Information requests reveal. But the true number is likely to be much higher as some refused to disclose numbers

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘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.’

The Royal College of Physicians offers a free two-hour course for doctors on how to discuss weight issues with patients and is producing a video on the topic.

Professor Rachel Batterham, the college’s special adviser on obesity, said: ‘It’s important that doctors and other healthcare professionals raise the topic of weight given the many and often very severe risks obesity can pose… but they must do so sensitively.

‘They need to explain that obesity is a complex medical condition and that losing weight will improve their health and to offer appropriate help.’

Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said clinicians are well trained to discuss weight ‘in an appropriate way but we know that a small number of patients resent the fact that the issue is raised in the first place, even though it has to be’. 

REMARKS THAT OFFENDED 

Many of the complaints about the way NHS staff spoke to fat patients led to apologies.

One involved a junior doctor at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust who upset a patient by allegedly saying: ‘You need to lose weight. You are very hairy and that is because you are overweight.’

The consultant in charge of the ward sent a letter of apology to the patient.

Another complaint came from a patient being weighed at Great Western Hospitals NHS Trust who claimed a nurse laughed at her when she said she tried to maintain a healthy weight, allegedly saying: ‘Well obviously not.’

A doctor at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn NHS Trust wrote to a patient to apologise after telling them to ‘go home and lose weight’.

East Midlands Ambulance Service received a complaint against an employee who allegedly told a patient: ‘I hope you can make your way down. There is no way I’m carrying you – you weigh too much for us to be lifting you down the stairs.’

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