Obese NHS staff provide a “very poor role model” to patients trying to lose weight, according to a leading doctor.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a former president of the Royal Society of Medicine, said ministers should introduce a “requirement” for all health service employers to “address obesity in their staff at all levels”.

“The staff are often quite severely obese and actually act as a very poor role model to those patients whose obesity should be being addressed,” the independent crossbench peer said at question time in the House of Lords.

Health minister Earl Howe said he was co-chairman of a network within the Department of Health which “draws together employers from a range of sectors to address health in the workplace”.

“It is a tremendously important opportunity to engage employers to realise that it is in their own interests to ensure that their employees enjoy good health and lead healthy lifestyles,” he said.

Labour former minister Lord Foulkes said doctors should be told it did not help “to be critical and condemnatory of those of us who are obese “as that could lead to “depression and other illnesses”.

He added: “It is very important to give encouragement and that is why, I’m glad to say, I’ve been able to lose over a stone in the last month.”

Lord Howe told him: “Not for the first time you are an example to us all.”

He agreed with Lord Foulkes about the way doctors should interact with patients.