Only a fraction of the need for lifesaving weight-loss surgery is being met by the country’s public health system.
Almost 8% of older adults are potentially eligible for bariatric surgery but a study has found that less than 0.1% of this need is being met
Researchers at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College Cork discovered 92,500 (7.97%) adults need weight-loss surgery.
The finding is conservative as only people aged over 50 were considered. The study, published in the journal Surgery for Obesity and Related Disorders calls for a strategy to develop and expand the provision of bariatric care.
There are just two public bariatric centres in Ireland — St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin and Galway University Hospital.
The study points out they carry out fewer than 50 procedures annually.
Weight loss is achieved by reducing the stomach with a gastric band, removing part of the stomach or by resecting and re-routing the small intestine to a small stomach pouch.
Bariatric surgery improves life expectancy, increases the odds of diabetes remission, and reduces health care spending.
The study was carried out by the Evidence to Support Prevention, Implementation and Translation research group, led by Prof Patricia Kearney.
A consultant endocrinologist at Galway University Hospital, Francis Finucane, said it was crucial that weight-loss surgery became an available option for those in greatest need.
Data for the study was collected from a cross- sectional analysis of the first wave (2009-2011) of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing to estimate the proportion of people eligible for bariatric surgery.
Researcher Kate O’Neill said findings she described as “stark” should be considered by policymakers and used to guide resource allocation.
“One strategy is to limit the budget impact is to focus on the patients with type-2 diabetes,” said Ms O’Neill. “We know from other work that we have done that the prevalence of type-2 diabetes in adults is 5.2%.”
The research group looked at people with a body-mass index of 40 or greater and those with a body-mass index over 35 but also have type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, have had a previous heart attack or have sleep apnea.
The group’s findings show by increasing surgical rates in Ireland in line with other European countries, such as France where the rate is 57 per 100,000 people, the intervention will be more accessible.
The rate in the UK is 10 per 100,000.
Ms O’Neill said bariatric surgery had been included in the national anti-obesity strategy, but there had been no mention of funding.
At the launch of the strategy in September last year, Health Minister Simon Harris said funding would be part of the estimate process.
He admitted at the time that while extra funding would allow more weight- loss surgery to be carried out, it was “nowhere near enough”.
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