Obesity surgery cost could hit €6m a year

SURGERIES for morbidly obese people here could cost the public almost €6 million every 12 months within the next decade, it has been claimed.

Trade publication Irish Medical Times has reported that the major expense could become a reality by 2019 due to the need to meet a rising demand for weight-loss procedures across the country.

Capacity restrictions at Ireland’s public obesity clinic at St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown mean that only 100 weight reduction operations take place every year. The most common procedures, such as gastric bypass and gastric band operations, cost an average of €12,000 and €13,000 respectively to carry out in the private sector, resulting in a total public and private cost of €1.2m.

However, due to the growth in demand for the service, consultant endocrinologist at St Columcille’s, Dr Donal O’Shea, said that within the next decade up to 450 surgeries could be needed every year – resulting in an overall expense of between €5.4m and €5.8m.

And while he criticised the growing expense as being partially linked to the growth in cosmetic operations, Dr Mayilone Arumugasamy, consultant bariatric surgeon at the Blackrock Clinic, said the increased demand was due to the health consequences of obesity.

“It is a health issue and not cosmetic. So much of diabetes could be reversed, as well as other conditions such as sleep apnoea, and from that perspective it [increased demand for the service] is very positive and results in a big health saving in the long term,” he said.

While St Columcille’s is the country’s only public obesity clinic, surgeries are also provided at University College Hospital Galway (UCHG) and private facilities such as the Galway Clinic, Beacon Hospital and the Blackrock Clinic.

St Columcille’s provides an estimated 100 procedures every year, while UCHG – which began offering the service in April 2008 – saw 16 patients last year at an overall cost of €400,000.

In the private sector, the Galway Clinic has been offering the service since 2003 and sees up to 60 patients every year at an average cost of €10,000 per patient.

Both the Blackrock Clinic and Beacon Hospital also offer the service.

However, while the Blackrock Clinic confirmed it charges patients €12,750 for a laparoscopic gastric band procedure and free consultations for two years, with a similar laparoscopic gastric bypass offer costing €20,750. Beacon Hospital said details of the service it offered were “commercially sensitive”.

According to the Department of Health, almost two-thirds of people in Ireland are overweight or obese, with the numbers continuing to rise.

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