A new survey indicates that British physicians would prefer to have the option to deny services to patients struggling to kick their smoking and over-eating habits. Others have suggested that such a move would be a denial of basic human rights.
In an optional opinion poll taken out by Doctors.net.uk, 54 percent of 1,096 British doctors said they believe they should have a right to withhold care to non-emergency patients in an effort to spare limited resources.
The doctors were asked, "Should the NHS be allowed to refuse non-emergency treatments to patients unless they lose weight or stop smoking?"
The shift in opinions on health care comes as the British National Health Services is being forced to undertake serious provisions and cutbacks due to the economic crisis, according to Dr. Tim Ringrose, chief executive of doctors.net.uk.
"This might appear to be only a slim majority of doctors in favor of limiting treatment to some patients who fail to look after themselves, but it represents a tectonic shift for a profession that has always sought to provide free health care from the cradle to the grave," Ringrose told The Observer.
Despite responses indicating that some British doctors would prefer to have the option of denying care, other doctors have said the idea of denying patients care on the basis of lifestyle choices is blackmail and a denial of basic human rights.
"There's no way that someone who is obese can be denied initial treatment by the NHS – that would be totally unjustified," Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum told The Observer.
Despite the debate, many doctors in the U.K. are quick to recognize that the country has a major health problem on its hands. England has the highest obesity rate in Europe and one in three children in the country are overweight or classified as obese by the age of nine. Experts predict that at its current rate the obesity problem in the U.K. is set to balloon with an estimated 48 percent of men and 43 percent of women expected to suffer from obesity by 2030.
With the London Olympics set to take place this coming summer, the British doctor's group the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges has also expressed concern that fast food and alcohol consumption may peek during the games, particularly with McDonald's serving as one of the main sponsors of the event.
The behemoth franchise is building the world's largest McDonald's restaurant at London's Olympic Park.
"It's very sad that an event that celebrates the very best of athletic achievements should be sponsored by companies contributing to the obesity problem and unhealthy habits," Terence Stephenson, a spokesperson for the British Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, told The Associated Press.