Obesity treatment centre for Suffolk?

HEALTH bosses are set to spend millions of pounds on providing specialist care for the increasing number of obese people in the region.

Elliot Furniss

HEALTH bosses are set to spend millions of pounds on providing specialist care for the increasing number of obese people in the region.

East Anglia is home to a growing population of morbidly obese people and many are reluctant to travel long distances for expert treatment or surgery.

The closest specialist centres are at Luton and Dunstable Hospital in Bedfordshire and Homerton Hospital in East London.

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Last week the EADT reported that Paul Mason, believed to be the world's fattest man and an Ipswich resident, had to travel in an adapted ambulance to a centre in Sussex for expert treatment.

And health chiefs had to defend the special treatment he has been receiving after it emerged that his ongoing care and benefits had cost the taxpayer more than �1million.

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Under new proposals, Ipswich could yet have its own specialist centre to treat and perform surgery for bariatric patients. The East of England Specialised Commissioning Group, which purchases services on behalf of all 14 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in the East of England region, is looking to improve the range of care on offer to obese people.

The subject has regularly been discussed by the group's board at its meetings but a pilot programme that would have seen new centres created across the region was previously suspended.

In December it was again on the agenda and the group's chief operating officer Trevor Myers told NHS Suffolk chief executive Carole Taylor-Brown that the provision of services would be developed “not least to address clinical concerns about access from the eastern part of the region”.

The group's associate director of commissioning Carolyn Young said that when the future of the pilot programme was discussed back in 2008, it was decided that more should be done within local communities first in order to offer support services directly to seriously overweight people rather than invest in new surgery centres.

She said: “At the end of the day surgery should be considered as a last resort. In December 2008 what was decided was they wanted to persuade local PCTs to get services in place to help people within their own communities. Priority was made to get this up and running.

“We would have been investing in surgery without the groundwork and over the last few years PCTs have been investing in these services.

“What we are doing now is we are taking a much more strategic approach and we are putting a paper to our board next month that we are looking at allowing hospitals to bid to become a bariatric service centre.”

Last year an EADT investigation showed that tackling Suffolk's obesity problems cost the NHS �10million a year and that figure could rise rapidly in coming decades unless more is done to reverse health trends.

Mrs Young said that these figures were still in line with current spending on treating seriously overweight patients, which make up about a quarter of the adult population.

She said the long-term target was still prevention rather than offering more surgery, but having a specialist centre in the eastern part of the region was a priority.

She said: “Surgery is the last point of call and it's not the answer to everything. It (more bariatric service centres) is being considered for funding along with a large number of other priorities.”

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