Clinics flourishing in climate of deregulation

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The Independent Online

When hopeful slimmers enter the corridors of Britain's slimming clinics, for many it is a last resort. They look for reassurance and hope in every corner of these establishments. They take reassurance from authoritative posters and leaflets.

Yet anyone in Britain can set up a slimming clinic, and the regulations surrounding them are so limited it is not even known how many exist.

Despite concern that the clinics continue to cater for a vulnerable group of people - who are often so eager to lose weight they will try anything offered to them, at any cost - When they fail to take detailed medical histories and prescribe medication without informing the patients' GPs, against the guidelines of the General Medical Council (GMC), clients are unlikely to complain.

The Consumers' Association (CA) carried out a lightning survey of four slimming clinics last year which showed a disturbing lack of rigour among doctors. The association's researchers were prescribed slimming drugs such as Dospan, Ionamin and Duromine without any warning of side-effects.

A CA spokesman said: "We urge consumers to be very careful when visiting clinics, which anybody can set up. On one of the visits a researcher was told `not to worry' about side-effects, which is clearly not proper advice. You have to quiz the specialists as much as you can."

Although the Home Office stopped issuing licences seven years ago, amid concern that the prescription of slimming drugs was on the rise, they have continued to flourish. But there have been growing calls for regulation of the industry

Alice Mahon, Labour MP for Halifax, said: "At the moment the diet industry can claim almost anything they like about their products... the multi- million pound industry is completely unregulated. It fails totally to warn potential clients about risks and adverse side- effects associated with rapid weight-loss programmes."