A FORMER Health Secretary has criticised Oxfordshire hospital chiefs for “rationing” hip operations for smokers and the obese.

Labour’s Andy Burnham said patients were being hit by strict criteria, introduced in 2010, for who can get operations.

Smokers must go on a ‘smoking cessation’ course and those with a body mass index of more than 40 are told to lose weight.

Health bosses said the rules – which usually involve six months of meetings with medics – were to ensure people are medically fit.

Mr Burnham, the Shadow Heath Secretary, has published a list of health authorities which he said are “rationing” care.

Among them was NHS Oxfordshire, which he claimed was seriously affecting the quality of life of patients by “limiting” surgery.

He said: “Right now, a postcode lottery is running riot through the NHS in England.

“We have identified 125 separate treatments that have been restricted or stopped altogether by at least one primary care trust in England.”

The policy for hip operations changed in 2010 after the General Election, when Labour was removed from power.

Before that there was no requirement for patients to undertake smoking cessation courses or lose weight.

In 2010/11, 840 Oxfordshire patients underwent hip operations.

A spokesman for NHS Oxfordshire said patients must be medically fit for surgery prior to being placed on the waiting list.

The spokesman added: “NHS Oxfordshire has this guidance in place, not to restrict the number of procedures undertaken, but to ensure they are carried out at the most appropriate point in a patient’s healthcare journey; ensuring they are getting the best treatment at the right time, to get the best health outcome.”

He said: “Prior to hip replacement surgery, patients with a BMI in the range 35-40 should be encouraged to participate in a weight-loss programme.

“Patients with a BMI of more than 40 may be high risk for surgery and, therefore, participation in a weight- loss programme is required prior to the operation.

“There is evidence that, compared with non-obese patients, obese patients have a higher risk of complications, including joint infection.”

He said: “To promote effective wound healing and avoid complications, all patients who smoke should participate in a smoking cessation programme whilst they are on the waiting list for surgery.”

Oxfordshire County Council member Melinda Tilley, from Kingston Bagpuize, has had two hip replacements, one in 2010 and one in 2011, both on the NHS. The Tory councillor said: “They didn’t say anything to me about losing weight for either of my surgeries, and I am quite overweight.

“I hate it when people start preaching to you about what you can and can’t do, what to eat, whether to smoke. It really winds me up.

“Having said that, my treatment was great. No-one should be scared of having it done.”

Mr Burnham, Health Secretary from June 2009 to May 2010, said: “Thousands of patients across England are left in pain, discomfort or unable to live their lives, facing the agonising choice of paying to go private or going without.

“There is a growing gap between ministers’ complacent statements about the NHS and peoples’ real experience of it.

“Ministers now need to act without delay.”