Huge increase in number of weight loss surgeries envisaged in plan

Dramatic expansion of service mapped out but not yet funded, says head of obesity programme

Plans to provide bariatric surgery at three centres in Dublin, Galway and Cork are dependent on Government providing up to €80 million in funding from the end of the year. Photograph: iStock

Plans to provide bariatric surgery at three centres in Dublin, Galway and Cork are dependent on Government providing up to €80 million in funding from the end of the year. Photograph: iStock

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The number of weight-loss surgeries carried out in Irish hospitals is to be increased 10-fold under plans for a major expansion of the service.

However, the plans to provide bariatric surgery at three centres in Dublin, Galway and Cork are dependent on Government providing up to €80 million in funding from the end of the year.

Prof Donal O’Shea, clinical lead of the HSE’s national obesity programme, said he was “optimistic but nervous” about the funding being provided.

Prof O’Shea confirmed that surgeons are dealing with a big increase in complications experienced by people travelling abroad for weight-loss surgery. He said the trend was entirely due to the lack of access to this kind of surgery in Ireland.

Bariatric surgeons say they are increasingly dealing with patients suffering “devastating” complications from sub-standard surgery carried out in some foreign clinics and that it only a matter of time before one dies, The Irish Times reported on Monday.

“I couldn’t blame them for seeking help,” Prof O’Shea commented. “If I was a patient needing weight loss and I knew there was an operation available that could help me lose 25 per cent of my body weight and cause my type 2 diabetes to go into remission and my sleep apnoea to disappear, I’d be getting on the plane myself.”

St Vincent’s could start expanding services from next spring with the two other centres following suit later in 2022 if the required funding is approved, according to Professor Donal O’Shea.
St Vincent’s could start expanding services from next spring with the two other centres following suit later in 2022 if the required funding is approved, according to Professor Donal O’Shea.

While some patients are successfully treated in private centres abroad, Irish surgeons say that in relation to some clinics, patients have suffered complications such as pain and nausea, as well as mechanical problems such as leaks, bowel blockage and clots.

At present in Ireland, it takes a patient 4.5 years from referral to undergo a bariatric operation, he said, due to a lack of capacity in the system.

Just over 100 operations are performed each year in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin and, to a lesser extent, in University Hospital Galway.

Under ambitious plans to meet the growing demand for weight-loss surgery, the number of operations would be increased to 1,200 a year. The service at St Vincent’s would be built up considerably, and a new unit would open in Cork.

Prof O’Shea said the model of care for people with complex obesity has already been agreed, and recruitment has begun of 44 dieticians to work in the community.

He said this work would inevitably lead to a further increase in demand for bariatric surgery, which has been shown to be effective and safe for patients.

About 3 per cent of the Irish population has a body mass index over 40. Many of these have severe and complex obesity, also involving complications.

The planned expansion of services is expected to cost €20 million a year for four years. If funding is provided, Prof O’Shea said St Vincent’s could start expanding services from next spring with the two other centres following suit later in 2022.

While the board of the HSE has identified the expansion of the service, Prof O’Shea warned “if it’s not funded this year, I don’t see it ever happening”.