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Cuts to weight management services in Birmingham

17th February 2016

UPDATE: We have been notified that the Health Trainer service will now continue for at least the next 12 months, which is excellent news. However, Lighten Up will cease at the end of April. We are disappointed by this decision, as we see it as a backwards step. As we mention below, it goes against the city’s pledge to tackle obesity in Birmingham.

The following blog post was published in February 2016:

moneyWe have been given notice that our Health Trainers and Lighten Up services are likely to close in May. This is due to budget cuts by Birmingham Public Health (part of Birmingham City Council), who fund these services.

The Government has announced significant reductions in the Public Health grant, so the notice follows proposals in the Council’s budget consultation that all weight management services should cease.

Of course, we responded to this consultation, as did many of the individuals and groups we’ve worked with, to challenge this decision. We are now awaiting the outcome.

We believe that cutting funding for weight management services goes against the city’s key public health messages: in particular that Birmingham needs to tackle obesity, and that we should have a preventative health agenda.

This morning (17 Feb), BBC WM ran this story as their headline news and we heard from Professor Nick Finer, doctor and leading obesity expert. He called the decision to pull funding “disastrous for the health of the city”, saying “it goes against all the guidelines, and indeed requirements, for local authorities to engage in the public health issue of trying to help people with issues of overweight and obesity.”

You can listen to the programme in full on the BBC iPlayer here (Prof. Finer is at 01:07:50).

It’s not just about vouchers

Neither Lighten Up or Health Trainers are solely about weight management, or free slimming classes. They’re about achieving behaviour change – and that can only happen when a person is motivated to change.

Enabling people to go to a slimming group for 12 weeks free gives people a really vital kickstart and we know, because we hear it from our clients time and time again, that many people simply wouldn’t ever go to a group if it wasn’t for this extra push. It’s not about whether people can afford to go on their own – although many people in fact wouldn’t be able to afford it – it’s about whether they would ever be motivated enough to take the plunge in the first place without a referral from their GP.

It’s also really important to point out that Lighten Up doesn’t just pass on vouchers; it offers wraparound care. We find that many people make more progress if they have someone to support them, which is why the follow up calls from our staff are so valuable. For a number of our clients who are a bit more isolated, the social contact that the phone service offers is really important too – it builds confidence and resilience, which is vital to help behaviour change.

Our Health Trainers service offers even more personal support for behaviour change: one to one consultations, for a lengthy period of time, tailored to individual needs… but again, it is a real kickstart for people to go on to achieve great things on their own. And so we agree that losing either of these kickstart services would indeed be disastrous for the health of the city.

Testimonials from our clients

We’re starting to get more and more letters and emails of support from people we’ve worked with over the years, protesting at the closure of these services and pointing out how Health Trainers and Lighten Up have helped them.

Steve, who has been working with Keiran, a Health Trainer, explains that his referral actually saved the NHS money:

I feel very strongly about the service closure due in May with no planned replacement. I have just completed my last session with Keiran and I am delighted with the fact that my blood sugar levels have improved from 72 (last three 6 monthly results) down to 49 as a result of planned weight loss and a much improved exercise regime ably facilitated by Keiran. This means for me, instead of having to take additional medication, I am in the position to reduce or possible eliminate my current Metformin prescription (2000mg daily) subject to discussion with my GP.

With diabetes on the increase and the massive costs needed by the NHS to treat this debilitating condition it does not seem logical to stop this type of service which is capable of achieving very positive outcomes just by lifestyle changes and without prescription drugs. Anything that can successfully make these changes should invested in and fully supported.

Carol has been working with Wayne, also a Health Trainer. Her letter points out that closing these services would leave a significant gap:

Gateway Family Services is a service that we all need – they help thousands of people like myself. If you take this service away from us where do we all go for help as the GPs cannot deal with issues like diets […] GPs are only there for medical problems.

We are collecting testimonials to send to our commissioners at Public Health. If you’d like to add your voice, please contact Jane Piggott Smith on email at or by writing to us at our office address.

Finally, if you did hear the BBC WM programme, you might remember Lesley, who says that she wouldn’t be where she is today without her Health Trainer or the Lighten Up service. Last year Lesley kindly spoke to us on camera about her journey with Gateway – and you can watch that below.

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  1. Justine

    How poignant Lesley’s message is, not only is she becoming more healthy but she is no longer socially isolated and is so motivated that she has started a swimming club. All this happened after engaging with a Health Trainer and being able to access a weight management programme through Lighten Up.

  2. Carol Kirby

    Is there a petition against this cut that I can sign up to please?

    • Katherine Hewitt

      Our position has moved on a bit since we wrote this and I’m pleased to say that the Health Trainer service will carry on for a further 12 months at least. However the weight management service Lighten Up will cease from the end of April. We’re really disappointed at this decision as it feels such a backward step in terms of proactively tackling the city’s obesity problems. There hasn’t been a petition but others like you have asked us what they should do to express how they feel. We’ve suggested writing a letter or email to Public Health they have encouraged us to direct things to this email or you could also think about raising with your local Councillors.