Tyranny of slimming: LEADING ARTICLE

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The Independent Online
The wide freedom British doctors have to prescribe medicines is founded on a rigorous procedure for assessing their safety before launch. Where the system is less robust is in follow-up. Who prescribes, when, and how attentively to the general state of the patient? In theory doctors are policed not only by the General Medical Council but by informal peer pressures and exchange of views in periodicals. But with so-called slimming pills the system seems to have broken down. Women have died and alarm bells should have been ringing long and loud.

These drugs have a role, though not uncontroversial, in treating obesity. The immediate question is their misuse. There is evidence that doctors are prescribing them, as with amphetamines and sleeping pills, as "get the patient off my back" drugs. Some doctors seem to have an attitude that is little better than quackery.

Culture prefers certain body shapes. Fat gets a consistently bad press. Many, many women want to be thinner. Some of them allow their weight to become a source of anxiety. Much of the pounds 1bn-a-year slimming industry does no harm, though it probably does little good either. But there is a segment of the market that is irresponsible and has to be curbed.

The Department of Health has had slimming pills under review for some time, but seems to have been dilatory about doing anything. It now has to hand an expert report, which must not be ignored. One option is licensing slimming clinics. But the medical profession needs to act quickest. Exemplary disciplinary action against doctors who have mis-prescribed these drugs would remind all GPs that no drug should be given to a patient without energetic parallel efforts to track side effects and outcomes.