Life-saving obesity operations cancelled to cut costs
SEVERELY obese patients will die in the wake of a shock decision to axe "last resort" surgery as part of the latest health service cost-cutting moves, a leading expert has warned.
Obesity expert Dr Donal O'Shea said he is devastated after being informed St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin is suspending life-saving gastric-bypass operations on dangerously obese public patients.
"They have delivered a death sentence to my patients. They are playing with people's lives," he told the Irish Independent.
It is one of only two hospitals in the country offering the operation to desperate clinically obese patients who have developed serious health complications and may die without it.
The surgery makes the stomach smaller, causing a feeling of fullness after eating a small amount of food, allowing patients to lose significant excess weight.
It leaves 180 patients, many of whom are on a waiting list for the surgery for up to four years, struggling to cope with their condition after all other weight-loss measures have failed.
The only other hospital in the country providing the surgery is University Hospital Galway, but this also has a large waiting list.
"Obesity is the biggest public health issue of the day. This kind of behaviour would not be accepted if heart transplants or cancer treatment were involved. This is just as vital," said Dr O'Shea, an endocrinologist in St Colmcille's and St Vincent's hospitals.
He was informed the axe was coming down on the surgery in an email, which arrived without warning yesterday. A spokesman for the hospital referred the issue to the HSE. There was no response from the HSE last night.
Dr O'Shea said the surgery ultimately had a major cost-saving.
Each surgery costs around €12,000 to €15,000 but it has major benefits by reducing the patient's health complications, which require expensive medication and is preventing them from working.
There are another 1,300 patients on the outpatient list to see a specialist and they can endure a four-year delay before being assessed.
Dr Francis Finucane, who runs the service in Galway, said he could not understand the decision and pointed out that even with the two centres they were coping with a fraction of the demand.
"There are around 800 people in Ireland who need this surgery every year but we are only carrying out 50 to 60 between us.
"There are 300 people on a waiting list for an outpatient appointment to see a surgeon in our hospital and they face a two-year delay."
The move by the HSE comes as it issued new rules for hospitals and other health facilities with vending machines offering high-calorie snacks.
Although the document warns that six in 10 Irish adults are now either overweight or obese, it said that vending machines could still contain 40pc of "less healthy" products, including fizzy drinks and crisps.
The document admits the vending machines "are a source of income for the HSE".