Call for more diabetes surgery to reverse disease’s harmful effects

Surgery should be used more widely in Ireland to cure diabetes and reverse the harmful effects of the disease, a medical expert has claimed.

A stomach operation is being used to treat the more severe cases of type-2 diabetes, one of the most serious health problems in Ireland.

International experts attending a conference in Dublin heard yesterday that “diabetes surgery” not only stops the disease but can turn back the clock, making patients healthier.

Prof Carel Le Roux from the Diabetes Complications Research Centre at University College Dublin said the gastric bypass surgery improved pancreatic function and reversed kidney disease, a serious complications associated with diabetes.

“The purpose of the operation is to take food from the gullet after it is swallowed and put it in the small bowel as quickly as possible,” said Prof Le Roux.

He said Science Foundation Ireland had been helping him to investigate how the body could halt kidney damage in diabetes following surgery.

He is hoping that the benefits of surgery can eventually be replicated with medical interventions that are just as effective.

Around 200 people undergo diabetes surgery every year in Ireland, with about half undergoing the procedure privately.

However, Ireland has the lowest number of procedures in both the public and private sector of any European country.

Prof Le Roux believes the number of operations could be increased quite quickly because the benefits to both the patient and to the health-care budget were significant.

“One year of dialysis for one patient, which many diabetes patients need due to complications from the disease, costs €60,000,” he said.

“Therefore, if we use a €10,000 operation to prevent someone going on onto dialysis then the budgetary impact of doing surgery is positive.”

Prof Le Roux said it would take up to two years before money would start to be saved on a patient’s treatment. The conference hosted by UCD in association with the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN) discussed the best surgical options.

Around 10% of Ireland’s health budget goes towards treating the disease and the complications it can cause for patients.

Diabetes affects more than a quarter of a million people in Ireland. The cost of diabetes is over €730m annually, with over 60% spent on treating the complications of the disease.

Many patients cannot control their diabetes properly, even with medication, good nutrition and exercise.

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