ALMOST 80,000 Irish people are now morbidly obese and are in desperate need of surgery, a health expert has warned.
Up to 2pc of the Irish population are tipping the scale with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 40 – placing them firmly in the morbidly obese category.
The optimal scale advised by doctors is between 18.5 and 25.
Now a specialist is calling for more bariatric surgeries, which includes fitting gastric bands and stomach reductions, to be carried out here.
This could cut the mounting cost to the Exchequer associated with severe obesity.
Dr Francis Finucane, a consultant endocrinologist who specialises in obesity, said carrying out more such surgeries could cut costs significantly.
He compared the Irish problem to the obesity problems being faced in England.
An English report in 2010 found that offering bariatric surgeries to 25pc of those eligible would save the Government £1.3bn (€1.5bn) over three years. This was achieved by patients returning to work and a drop in benefits being paid out.
"The prevalence of obesity in Ireland is pretty much the same as in England and the costs associated with it would be similar. We can't afford not to provide this intervention," he said.
The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland currently recommend bariatric surgery, for obese patients with a BMI of over 40. At present just two public hospitals in Ireland provide such services, the national unit at St Columcille's Hospital, Loughlinstown, Dublin, and Galway University Hospital.
As the demand for bariatric surgery increases, patients are now waiting up to two years for surgery.
Dr Finucane works at the Galway clinic which carried out 40 operations on morbidly obese patients last year and 100 over the past three years.
While the operations are publicly funded, Dr Finucane said they offer significant savings to the State by reducing long-term health problems and allowing patients to return to work.
Dr Finucane will be speaking at a major obesity conference being held at NUI, Galway on Friday