Suffolk's £1m bill for stomach surgery

MORE than 100 people in Suffolk have undergone stomach surgery for obesity on the NHS in the past three years - at an estimated cost of almost £1million.

Danielle Nuttall

MORE than 100 people in Suffolk have undergone stomach surgery for obesity on the NHS in the past three years - at an estimated cost of almost £1million.

Between 2004/05 and 2006/07, a total of 118 people had gastric bypass operations at the county's two main hospitals.

But the number of procedures has dropped 34% in the last three years, from 56 in 2004/05 to 37 last year.

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Gastric bypasses are normally only performed on patients who are so overweight that their life is in imminent danger from heart attack or stroke.

The operation involves reducing the size of the stomach and bypassing part of the small intestine, which limits the amount of food the body can take in and leaves patients feeling fuller sooner.

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Each operation costs the NHS around £7,000, which means around £826,000 was spent on such surgery in Suffolk in the past three years alone.

Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) said it was working on a number of initiatives to encourage people to improve their lifestyles to prevent the need for drastic medical intervention.

A spokesman said: “One of the PCT's major roles is to improve the health and wellbeing of the population and we encourage people to cut their risk of contracting preventable illnesses by taking steps such as giving up smoking and losing weight.

“We have initiatives to help educate residents about a healthy lifestyle and we are developing more over the coming year. Currently, our initiatives range from MEND programmes, which help children learn about healthy eating and exercise to a pilot scheme we have just launched in Stowmarket, where people with a body mass index of over 30 are referred to a trainer and attend group exercise classes. We also offer slimming on referral through most GP practices.

“An increasingly sedentary lifestyle and abundance of energy-rich foods mean that the nation is getting heavier, which can in turn lead to other problems such as heart disease and diabetes. The PCT is encouraging people to change their lifestyles for the better, which means they are less likely to become dependent on medical resources in the long term.”

Nationally, the number of people undergoing stomach surgery for obesity rose 41% last year.

The Liberal Democrats, who obtained the figures after asking a parliamentary question, said this showed the Government was failing to tackle obesity.

Lib Dem Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb said: “The Government's failure to tackle rocketing adult and childhood obesity is one of its biggest embarrassments.

“Obesity surgery should only be used in very extreme cases and is not a quick fix solution.

“The Government is now spending an enormous amount on treating obesity and not nearly enough on prevention. We're in danger of treating the symptom rather than the underlying causes.”

In 2006/07, 3,459 gastric bypass operations were carried out on the NHS in England compared to 2,448 in 2005/06.

The EADT revealed last week how obese patients in Stowmarket will be given free gym sessions on the NHS as part of a new trial to get them fitter.

The initiative is being launched by Suffolk PCT and will allow GPs at Stowmarket Health Centre to refer patients with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30 to a personal trainer.

Gastric bypass surgery by NHS trust 2004/05 to 2006/07

2004/05 2005/06 2006/06

West Suffolk Hospital 12 * 8

Ipswich Hospital 44 25 29

Note: Numbers of five or less have been suppressed and replaced with * to protect confidentiality.

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