The number of surgeries for the treatment of morbid obesity should be increased six-fold to 1,000 a year, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has said.
The proposal would cost an additional €7 million per annum.
There was a 56% increase in the number of patients undergoing procedures to surgically limit their food intake and reduce their weight last year, as 168 people had operations at a cost of nearly €1.5 million.
The HSE welcomed the “modest” increase in surgical procedures for the treatment of obesity during 2018.
However, it said that the number of such operations should be increased to 1,000.
“Ireland lags behind other developed countries in the provision of this cost-saving, health-enhancing surgery. At present, we have the fewest numbers of bariatric surgeries in the Western world,” said a spokesperson for the health authority.
“To be in line with international averages, Ireland should ideally be performing close to 1,000 of these procedures each year.”
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that almost €7.75 million has been spent on surgeries for morbid obesity in the past decade, with 913 patients availing of the procedures in public hospitals.
The operations, which cost an average of €8,600 each last year, are designed to encourage weight loss by surgically altering the digestion process or by reducing the size of a patient’s stomach in order to limit food intake.
The procedures, collectively known as bariatric surgery, include gastric bypass operations, which redirect food away from some parts of the stomach and small intestine so that the body absorbs fewer calories.
They also include gastric banding, in which a band is placed around the upper part of the stomach to reduce its capacity so that the patient feels full after eating small amounts of food.
The procedures are performed at two public facilities: St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin and University Hospital Galway (UHG).
There are approximately 370 patients currently on waiting lists for surgery, according to the HSE.
“These figures will increase proportionally with improved access to specialist services for the treatment of complex obesity and assessment for bariatric surgery,” said the spokesperson.
“International evidence has confirmed that bariatric surgery is life-saving and can prevent or cause remission of type-2 diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.
“The National Obesity Management Programme is working hard to develop quality services across Ireland to ensure individuals living with obesity have timely access to management of overweight and obesity across all ages."