Obesity surgery ‘will save HSE millions’

The HSE can recoup the cost of bariatric surgery within two years and then go on to save millions on medication costs, according to obesity experts.

The new national data was produced by the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN) and the Association for the Study of Obesity.

They found there was a 97% decrease in the cost of diabetes medication for people who underwent obesity surgery in the last 12 months.

“Ireland has one of the lowest rates of obesity treatment in Europe but one of the highest rates of obesity and difficult to control type 2 diabetes,” said Prof Carel le Roux, IrSPEN board member.

IrSPEN, ASOI, Safefood, Diabetes Ireland, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Obesity, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, and the Irish Society for Chartered Physiotherapists want the State to spend €400m on tackling obesity between now and 2025.

By 2025, if current trends continue, 33% of Irish adults will be obese and the annual cost of treating obesity-related diseases, like type 2 diabetes, will reach €2.1bn — a 60% increase on the current spend.

The experts warn that the cumulative cost of not treating obesity in Ireland between now and 2025 will be about €15.8bn.

The health groups want funding to be spent on developing a national obesity treatment programme of evidence-based approaches, encompassing personalised dietary support, therapeutic exercises, weight loss medication, behavioural therapies and surgery.

Bariatric surgeon, Helen Heneghan, said gastric band or bariatric surgery offers the most successful and cost-effective option for people with severe obesity and complications such as type 2 diabetes.

Ms Heneghan, who works at St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Columcille’s Hospital in Dublin, sees a high percentage of patients return to normal blood sugar control without the need for insulin or other medications within two days of surgery.

“We are facing an obesity crisis in Ireland, and we need to invest in a national obesity treatment programme with dedicated resources as a matter of priority,” she said.

Ms Heneghan said around 300 patients attending the weight management programme at St Columcille’s were on the waiting list for bariatric surgery at St Vincent’s where just 27 procedures were performed last year.

“We know that achieving a 10% body weight loss can improve almost all weight-related illnesses,” she said.

“If we received the funding we are requesting we could see twice the number of patients in our weight management clinic at St Columcille’s. We could perform up to five times the volume of surgeries we are currently able to perform and we could reduce our waiting list figures.”

The HSE’s policy and action plan on obesity was published late last year. Last month the HSE appointed Prof Donal O’Shea as clinical lead for obesity.

“He (Prof O’Shea) is very committed to implementing the plan but, similarly, he needs to be able to leverage funding for that,” said Ms Heneghan.

ASOI board member, Dr Grace O’Malley, said larger people are more discriminated against. “We don’t care for them as well; we treat them differently from others.”

World Obesity Day takes place next Wednesday.

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