Potentially lifesaving gastric bypass operations are on hold because of a HSE decision to limit the number of procedures it funds.
Endocrinologist at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dr Donal O’Shea, said the move by the HSE some weeks ago was wrong and that it came in the face of growing evidence of an obesity crisis across the country.
Yesterday, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, led by Trinity College Dublin, showed that 80% of people aged 50 and over are either overweight or obese.
Gastric bypass procedures were transferred last year from St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown in Dublin to St Vincent’s Hospital in Donnybrook, with a view to increasing the number of operations carried out each year.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday, Dr O’Shea said there were more than 200 people awaiting the operation and that not enough procedures had been conducted in recent years, prior to the switch to St Vincent’s.
“Everything was going very nicely until a few weeks ago we were told by the HSE to stop,” he said. “They picked a number out of the sky saying you’re funded to do 25 operations a year. That is simply not true.”
He said recommendations from the Royal College of Surgeons and the HSE had in fact suggested 50 surgeries per year per surgeon or 100 per year in each institution.
With the waiting list now going above 200 for the first time, Dr O’Shea and others have written to the Taoiseach and the minister for health, demanding the policy be reversed.
However, in the Dáil Taoiseach Enda Kenny told Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin that resources should not be taken from areas such as cancer treatment to deal with gastric bypass patients.
Dr O’Shea said this view was “populist” and one of “misinformation”, adding that in his opinion Mr Kenny was showing “no leadership” or insight.
On the study findings, he said they were “extraordinary”, adding: “It is an explosive picture for the future”.
Gastric bypass operations shrink the size of the stomach and according to Dr O’Shea, can result in a weight loss of between 30% and 40% within an 18-month period after the procedure — far exceeding the likely weight loss over a similar period by changes to diet and via exercise.
In a statement the HSE said: “Typically St Columcille’s carried out 20 cases per year. We are advised by St Vincent’s that the hospital have provided in excess of this number so far this year. Galway University Hospital treat on average 50 cases per year and are not anticipating any reduction in service levels for 2014.
“St Vincent’s Hospital has used its allocated funding for 2014. No further funding is available this year given the financial position of the health services. To provide further funding for bariatric services would require taking funding from other services.”
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