DANGEROUSLY obese patients here are facing up to a six-year wait for weight-loss surgery, an expert has warned.
Dr Donal O'Shea, the head of the Health Minister's Special Action Group on Obesity, told the Herald there are over 130 patients on the waiting list for bariatric surgeries such as gastric by-passes.
Dr O'Shea, who is a consultant endocrinologist and director of the Weight Management Clinic at St Columcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown, revealed unless more surgeries are performed annually, people could be waiting some six years for procedures.
"We do about 25 operations per year. At this rate, some people will wait six years for their surgery. We need to be doing around 150 to 200 per year," he said.
As the country's leading expert on obesity he believes this increase could be made by carrying out bariatric procedures (weight-loss surgery) at St Vincent's Hospital.
In April, he wrote to the Minister for Health and the head of the Special Delivery Unit, Tony O'Reilly, describing the waiting list and asking them to move the weight-loss surgeries to St Vincent's.
The Special Delivery Unit, set up by Health Minister Dr James Reilly, has responsibility for reducing national waiting lists so that no patient is waiting more than 12 months for surgery.
In 2011, the minister ended the requirement that the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which helps the SDU reduce waiting lists, purchase 90pc of its treatments in the private sector. Bariatric surgeries cost around €12,000 each in public hospitals, but Dr O'Shea warns it could cost twice that if they have to be carried out in the private sector.
"If we do 100 surgeries per year, it will cost €1.2m, but the SDU has a very big budget so this is small money. If they outsourced these surgeries to private clinics, it could cost €3.4m."
However, Dr O'Shea claimed the HSE and the SDU "have no appetite for treating people in need of weight-loss surgery". He claims they have denied the existence of the waiting list.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The NTPF has confirmed there are three patients waiting for gastric by-pass and gastric reduction surgery nationally. This is based on data submitted by individual hospitals to the NTPF."