Today’s ruling by the European Court of Justice that obesity may be a disability sounds like a plot of an Aldwych farce. The idea that eating too much or working too little opens the door to state welfare and the chance to sue anyone who chooses not to accommodate the consequences of your actions is farcical in the extreme. Surely there must be some component of the definition of disability which means it involuntary or irreversible? Surely one of those must apply?
Obesity is neither. Yes it is a very complex area of health, and yes psychology has a massive part to play in obesity. It is a disease not of affluence but rather one of hopelessness, living for today is most tempting when there is little hope for tomorrow. It is a phenomenon of people in the least affluent layer of society, not the richest. but it is voluntary and reversible. Those of us who are overweight, and I’m no beanpole, get this way because we eat too much or exercise too little and often both. That isn’t semantics, it’s maths. More in than out = weight gain. Simples.
When I hear people complain about the NHS or welfare the first thing I ask is how do we stop adding to the burden? The first thing that people may think of is the impact on disability benefits or perhaps the risk of employer litigation if the big boned don’t get their dream job. The indirect impact on the NHS can be missed.
Sure there will be a greater demand for obesity surgery as any attempt to turn down a patient on the grounds they aren’t fat enough will likely land the surgeon in the dock for discrimination. The effects on indemnity fees will be staggering. Obstetricians pay massive fees for indemnity and so too do GPs. In fact 15 percent of a GP’s salary, or 1 percent of the NHS budget, is spent on medical indemnity for GPs. That’s staggering and that’s now. Imagine when a GP tells a patient to lose weight before referring them for knee surgery and that’s just for avoiding a referral.
Defensive medicine will kick in and clinics will be stuffed with people with bad knees for fear of the GP being sued. Then surgeons will have to argue for each case they refuse. This is of course possible but very time consuming and easy meat for lawyers if a surgeon’s case is not watertight. Higher GP insurance fees will mean even more GPs quitting and moving abroad. There will be much higher complications for patients who have an operation when…errr… not in the best of shape, should the surgeon bottle it and list them for surgery.
Have the judges at the ECJ thought of any of the consequences of their ruling? Of course not, many have never been judges even in their own countries. We now have a legal system built not on common sense and experience but on moral hazard, on what ruling will cause judges abroad the least headache. The medical colleges, the NHS, the taxpayer are now having to play catch up to a foreign court that plays the harp with such ignorance it gives Nero a run for his money. We’ve got to leave this court of fools, its rulings are now just a joke.
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