Surgery to treat morbid obesity costs taxpayers €3m
Taxpayers are having to tighten their belts so overweight patients are able to tighten theirs, new figures have revealed.
Since 2009, 345 morbidly obese patients have availed of costly operations designed to encourage weight loss by surgically altering the process of digestion or by reducing the size of a patient's stomach to limit food intake.
The total cost to the State for these operations amounts to almost €3m.
Donal O'Shea, a leading consultant at St Columcille's Hospital in Dublin, said they have 210 people on waiting list for these procedures.
"People consider these operations to be cosmetic, but they're really a treatment for things like diabetes and weight related arthritis," he said.
Gastric banding and gastric stapling, which reduces the size of a patient's stomach, accounted for 116 of the 345 procedures carried out for the treatment of morbid obesity in public hospitals in the past five years.
These cost over €1.1m, while the total bill for bariatric surgery - the term covering all procedures for morbid obesity - amounted to €2,995,451 in the past five years.
However, Dr O'Shea believes these treatments will save the economy money in the long run.
"Many of the people I've treated have gone back to work, meaning they are paying tax and at the same time, the State doesn't have to pay them disability. It saves lives and money."
The Health Service Executive said the cost of bariatric procedures was covered by both the HSE and also by individuals who pay for the procedures through private health insurance and other means.
"In the case of public patients, procedures of this nature are carried out only for clinical, not cosmetic, reasons and on the basis of a clinical diagnosis by a medical consultant," said a spokesperson.
Last year, the number of procedures for morbid obesity carried out in the two hospitals increased to 97, costing €926,756. The figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Patients are considered morbidly obese if they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) higher than 40. Two out of every three adults on the island of Ireland are either overweight or obese.
The prevalence of obesity in 18-64 year old adults has increased significantly in Ireland over the last 20 years and has become a major concern for health experts..
The cost of obesity and overweight annually is €1.13bn in the Republic.
In June, bariatric surgery was suspended at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin after consultants were advised that it had exceeded its allocated funding in respect of 2014.