Rise in surgery for obesity patients trebles

NEW figures show that the numbers of obese patients having surgery has nearly trebled in the last two years.

The latest evidence shows there has been a large increase in the number of people needing surgery, such as gastric bands fitted, which a Suffolk MP has said indicates that the fight to tackle obesity in society is far from over.

Figures show that in 2008/09 there were nine patients that were funded for bariatric surgery by the East of England Commissioning Group who were treated at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, and 2009/10 this increased to 24.

These figures are revealed as a report by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published yesterday found there has been an “exponential” 10-fold rise in weight-loss surgery between 2000 and 2007.

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said: “There is undoubtedly a problem with obesity throughout the whole of the UK, which is particularly true in parts of Suffolk, like Ipswich and Lowestoft. Part of it is down to lifestyle issues with people not leading healthy lifestyles and making unhealthy decisions about their diets.

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“The previous interventions in tackling obesity have not been working up until now. It is about education and eating the right things and doing exercise.

“ I am not convinced that bariatric surgery is always the answer. We know that people who have the surgery sometimes end up putting the weight back on.

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“We have got to get people taking responsibility for their own lives.”

Michael Hattrell, health improvement manager of NHS Suffolk, said: “The ideal is that this figures will start to stabilise and then we should see a decrease.

“What we have been doing with Healthy Ambitions [which aims to make Suffolk the healthiest county by 2028] is to work towards a goal to help raise awareness about what to eat and the safe limit for exercising. We are trying to make people aware that there are interventions from an early age, such as breastfeeding, which reduces obesity in later life.”

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommends the surgery only for the morbidly obese (body mass index of 40 or more, or 35 if there is another existing condition which could improve with surgery, such as diabetes).

Bariatric surgery includes gastric banding, which reduces the size of the stomach with a band, and gastric bypass, where the small intestine is re-routed towards a small stomach pouch.

Dr Matthew Thalanany, director of public health at the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group, said: “In the last two years we have developed a consistent approach across the whole of the region and improved access to surgery. We are continuing to work closely with Primary Care Trusts to further develop prevention services so that fewer patients ever reach the stage of requiring a surgical intervention.

“Surgery must always be a last resort as the procedures are incredibly invasive and are associated with very high risks.”

A Department of Health spokesman said prescribing drugs or recommending surgery was a “clinical decision”.

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