Published: 11/08/2005, Volume II5, No. 5967 Page 25

In Wirral, a primary care specialist obesity service is making a big difference to people whose weight is putting their health at serious risk.

Wirral's two primary care trusts last year committed over£400,000 recurrent annual funding to establish a lifestyle and weight management service. The LWMS is the only comprehensive NHSfunded obesity service to provide combined longterm support for changing diet, taking up exercise and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Funded by Birkenhead and Wallasey and Bebington and West Wirral PCTs in partnership with Wirral borough council, it takes nearly 30 referrals a week from GP practices.

Since its launch in March 2004, LWMS advisers have helped hundreds of people change their lifestyles, lose weight, take more exercise and reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The first 298 people to complete the programme lost a combined weight of 962kg.

Wirral GPs and practice nurses can refer patients to the service if their weight is putting their health at risk. The client has an appointment with a lifestyle adviser to assess their needs and to develop an action plan.

They are also encouraged to attend the intensive 12-week LWMS programme.

The course is based on weekly two-hour interactive group sessions, led by a trained member of the LWMS team, to help clients make the small but necessary changes to their lifestyle. Over 70 per cent of those who meet the advisers for their initial appointment go on to complete the course.

Clients are introduced to a range of topics, including food labelling, what constitutes a balanced diet and portion sizes. LWMS also offers healthy cookery courses, with free recipes to take home and use.

During the first 12 weeks, if medically appropriate, clients are given a free pass to exercise at local authority leisure centres as many times as they wish and receive guidance about which activities are most suitable for them.

A specialist adviser provides a personalised programme of care for those who are housebound to encourage them to improve their diet and, where feasible, take more exercise.

Clients continue to receive support for up to a year to try to prevent them slipping back into old, unhealthy habits.

LWMS has 10 lifestyle advisers, including a specialist dietician, exercise physiologists and nutritionists, and links to local health initiatives such as Wirral healthy communities healthy living centre project. LWMS also works closely with Wirral heart support centre in St Catherine's Hospital.

An intermediate service was launched in June to provide an additional weight management service for those who do not meet the referral criteria for the main service.

Carol Corvers is health improvement services manager, Birkenhead and Wallasey PCT.