The number of weight loss surgeries performed in Irish hospitals is expected to be increased tenfold as part of plans for a major expansion of the service.
However, plans for bariatric surgery at three centers in Dublin, Galway and Cork depend on the government to provide up to € 80 million from the end of the year.
Prof. Donal O’Shea, clinical director of HSE’s national obesity program, said he was “optimistic but nervous” about the funding made available.
Prof. O’Shea acknowledged that surgeons are facing a sharp increase in complications occurring in people traveling overseas for weight loss surgery. He said the trend was entirely due to the lack of access to this type of surgery in Ireland.
Bariatric surgeons say they are increasingly dealing with patients suffering “devastating” complications from substandard surgery at some overseas clinics and that it is only a matter of time before someone dies, the Irish Times reported Monday.
“I can’t blame you for seeking help,” commented Prof. O’Shea. “If I were a patient in need of weight loss and I knew there was surgery that could help me lose 25 percent of my body weight and put my type 2 diabetes into remission and my sleep apnea go away, I would be me “Get on the plane yourself.”
According to Professor Donal O’Shea, St. Vincent’s could begin expanding services from next spring, with the other two centers following suit later in 2022 if the necessary funds are approved.
While some patients are successfully treated in private centers abroad, Irish surgeons report that patients in some clinics have experienced complications such as pain and nausea, as well as mechanical problems such as leaks, intestinal obstruction and blood clots.
Currently, it takes 4.5 years from referral to undergo bariatric surgery in Ireland due to insufficient capacity of the system.
Just over 100 surgeries are performed each year at St. Vincent Hospital in Dublin and, to a lesser extent, at Galway University Hospital.
Following ambitious plans to meet the growing demand for weight loss surgery, the number of surgeries is set to increase to 1,200 per year. The service in St. Vincent would be expanded significantly and a new unit would be opened in Cork.
Prof. O’Shea said the care model for people with complex obesity has already been agreed and the recruitment of 44 nutritionists has started to work in the community.
He said this work would inevitably lead to a further increase in the demand for bariatric surgeries that have been shown to be effective and safe for patients.
About 3 percent of the Irish population has a body mass index over 40. Many of them suffer from severe and complex obesity, which also has complications.
The planned expansion of the services is expected to cost 20 million euros per year over four years. If funding is provided, Prof. O’Shea said St. Vincent’s could begin expanding services beginning next spring, with the other two centers following suit later in 2022.
While the HSE Board of Directors has identified the expansion of the service, Prof. O’Shea warned, “If it isn’t funded this year, I’ll never see it”.