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Knee replacement NHS policies on patient's weight worsened health inequalities

Published on 04/07/22 at 09:33am

New research has found that weight/body mass index (BMI) policies introduced by NHS commissioning groups in England are associated with a decrease in knee replacement surgery, and may be contributing to health inequalities around the country. 

The NIHR-funded study, led by the University of Bristol and published in PLOS ONE, suggests regions that introduced policy changes for access to knee replacement surgery based on a patient’s weight/BMI have seen a decline in surgery. 

Over the last decade rules have been brought in by NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) across England, changing the access to hip and knee replacement surgery for patients who are overweight or obese. With one in 10 people likely to need a knee replacement in the country, many thousands of patients are directly affected by the policies introduced by such groups.

There is significant regional difference, with some regions having no such policy, and in the strictest examples patients being denied access to an elective hip or knee replacement operation until their BMI is below a certain threshold.

Dr Joanna McLaughlin, NIHR Doctoral Fellow at Bristol Medical School and lead author of the study, commented: “NHS policy on whether people can immediately access referral for knee replacement surgery if they are overweight or obese varies depending on where you live in England.

“Our study raises the concern that these policies are linked with worsening health inequalities with fewer NHS operations for the least affluent groups in society when policies are introduced.” 

The research team analysed the rates of knee replacement surgery of 481,555 patients between January 2009 and December 2019 using data from the National Joint Registry and compared regions with and without a BMI policy.

The study found the policies put in place by NHS CCGs to change access to knee replacement based on a patient’s weight/BMI are linked with a decrease in surgery and could have led to postcode health inequalities. The research highlighted that these rules may be worsening health inequalities, and linked to a rise in patients having private surgery, alongside a reduction in the most economically deprived patients receiving surgery at all.

Ana Ovey

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