Specialist calls for regional obesity units

THE REPUBLIC should have a series of regional obesity surgery centres, instead of just one, a leading specialist has said.

THE REPUBLIC should have a series of regional obesity surgery centres, instead of just one, a leading specialist has said.

Consultant laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, Mr Colm O’Boyle said Irish people were going to the UK “in their droves” for gastric band and gastric bypass surgery.

He pointed out that there was a long waiting list for admission to Ireland’s only public adult-obesity centre in St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown.

“There is one professor who flies in every month from England to hold temporary clinics in Ireland. He brings obese patients back to Leeds for surgery. There are also a lot of patients going to for cheap gastric bands, but there are a lot of problems coming back.”

According to Mr O’Boyle, bariatric surgery is a difficult and complicated procedure that requires a lot of follow-up and regular reviews of patients.

“People are going abroad for surgery and are getting no follow-up, there seems to be no review process, so we are dealing with a lot of problems as a result.

“I tell my patients that I will review them for life because the bands in particular can run into all sorts of problems, and there needs to be more awareness of this,” he warned.

Mr O’Boyle said there was a need for publicly funded regional bariatric centres across the State to prevent people from going abroad for surgery. Bariatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity.

He said there were only a handful of consultants trained in bariatric surgery in the Republic, and most were carrying out very low levels of surgery.

“There are somewhere in the region of 40,000 to 60,000 people in this country at the moment who would probably benefit from bariatric surgery if the UK figures are anything to go by.

“These are people who are desperate to lose weight. They have been trying to lose weight for years, nothing has worked and they are getting heavier and heavier.

“They realise their lives will be shortened if they continue at the level of weight they are at,” he said.

While the demand for obesity surgery is soaring worldwide, amid scientific and ethical questions, there have been a number of cases that have attracted a lot of negative press attention.

Last June, 18-stone mother Kerry Greaves died of organ failure at York District Hospital when she developed a leak in her stomach lining after gastric bypass surgery.

And in 2007, mother-of-six Bernadette Reid died after an abandoned gastric banding procedure at the Advanced Cosmetic Surgery clinic in Dublin.

However, the results of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2008 suggests that the risk of complications in bariatric surgery may be much lower than had been previously reported.

Mr O’Boyle said research published in the same journal in 2007 shows that bariatric surgery improves the patient’s long-term outlook, reduces mortality, improves diabetes and reduces the incidence of cardiovascular complications and cancer.

He explained that many of the patients he sees are diabetics, and gastric surgery is particularly effective for them. Of the diabetics he has treated in Cork, he claims 70 per cent have been cured or dramatically improved in less than a year following surgery.