TWO severely obese people have died this year and many more are being put at risk because they are unable to access potentially life-saving surgery.
Leading obesity expert Dr Donal O'Shea said the Department of Health is ruling them ineligible for anti-obesity surgery -- such as the fitting of a gastric band or gastric bypass -- even though they could die without it.
Dr O'Shea said that 200 weight-reducing surgical procedures should be carried out in public hospitals each year -- but the number is fewer than 40.
Dr O'Shea, of St Columcille's Hospital in Dublin, warned that more than 130 of his patients are in urgent need of the surgery -- with the figure rising by eight or 10 per month.
He could not tell how long a patient referred for the surgery today will have to wait -- but said that two of his patients have died this year.
Dr O'Shea highlighted the crisis at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, which was discussing child obesity yesterday. He spoke of the need to greatly improve prevention and treatment measures.
He has formally asked that patients on the waiting list be operated under the state-funded National Treatment Purchase Fund, but the Department of Health claimed they are medically unfit to be operated on.
Dr O'Shea, who is also a member of the department's Special Action Group on Obesity, told the Irish Independent: "This is simply not true. They are on the list fit for surgery and we have deaths occurring."
There are around 4,000 obesity-related deaths in Ireland each year, Dr O'Shea said , pointing out that people are classed as severely obese once they have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 51. That equates to a weight of 22 stone or more depending on the person's height and build.
Weight loss surgery is regarded as a "last resort", but it is still seen as a low priority in public hospitals.
The inadequate service also means that a further 1,000 people are in the queue just to see a specialist at St Columcille's weight management clinic.
The most common weight reduction procedures are gastric band, gastric stapling or gastric bypass surgery, all of which restrict the amount of food the patient eats.