Professor Donal O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist at St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, said those awaiting gastric band surgery only represented a fraction of those who needed it.
Prof O’Shea, who is director of the obesity clinic at St Columcille’s, said it was the only centre operating in the public system.
“A Health Service Executive report published a number of years ago said a country the size of Ireland should be doing 500 such surgeries a year,” he said.
Prof O’Shea said there was now overwhelming evidence that the operation reduced the risk of death and cancer.
“The situation is beyond ridiculous now in light of the international evidence and the scale of the problem in this country.”
The centre takes on about 250 new patients a year and up to 30% will be suitable for surgery.
“So we’re adding about 50 patients a year to the surgical waiting list; we’re doing about 25 operations a year so the waiting list is going to get longer.
“A patient who is told he or she needs surgery today at current rates of operation will be waiting for five years,” he said.
There are around 4,000 obesity-related deaths in Ireland every year.
Prof O’Shea said people are classed as severely obese when they have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 51, which equates to a weight of over 20 stone.
He said the surgical procedure was cost-saving within 18 months of being carried out because the patient was on less medication and back at work.
Patients who have the stomach-reduction surgery will lose up to 40% of their excess body weight and the loss is usually maintained over a period of 10 to 15 years.
The procedure works by reducing the amount of food that a person can consume by reducing the stomach pouch, usually about a litre in size to around 20mls — the size of a bottle of Tippex.
Prof O’Shea said a public weight management clinic in Galway was carrying out a number of operations last year but that had stopped.
Money was provided for another public weight management clinic in Cork in 2005 but the funds were spent on cardiology instead.
Prof O’Shea wants surgery to be transferred from St Columcille’s to St Vincent’s University Hospital where he heads an obesity research group.
Prof O’Shea said the waiting list could be cleared within a year if robust and sustained weight management services were available in Dublin and Galway, with Cork either taking on the surgery or referring patients on.
However, he is still awaiting a response to his proposal made last April to both Health Minister James Reilly and the former head of the Special Delivery Unit, and now chief executive designate of the HSE, Tony O’Brien.