Obese patients forced abroad for treatment

  • Deborah Condon

The waiting list for gastric band surgery in the public health system is so long, it is forcing patients to travel abroad or seek treatment in unregulated private clinics, Fine Gael has claimed.

Currently, there is just one publicly funded weight management clinic in the country – at St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown.

“I have heard reports of waiting times of four years for gastric banding. A recent story in a newspaper told of a 13-year-old Irish girl flying to Belgium for the surgery and reported that hundreds of Irish people are making the same trip”, said Fine Gael health spokesperson, Dr James Reilly.

He also pointed to the tragic case of Bernadette Reid, who died soon after she underwent a gastric banding procedure at a private cosmetic clinic in Dublin. This week, her family called on the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, to regulate cosmetic surgery clinics in Ireland.

Minister Harney subsequently announced that she has asked the Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance to look at the issue.

“One of its terms of references is to specifically examine and make recommendations
in relation to a statutory system of licensing for public and private
health care providers and services. The Commission will report next month”, the Department of Health said.

However Dr Reilly insisted that this ‘is not getting to the heart of the problem’.

“We’ll have another report next month, but we still won’t have capacity in the public health system for the obese people who need this surgery. This lack of capacity is what has been forcing patients to travel abroad and go to unregulated private clinics”, he insisted.

Dr Reilly said that despite the obesity problem being ‘obvious for years’, the Government’s response has been ‘ineffective’.

“Few if any of the recommendations of the National Taskforce on Obesity have been implemented, so this excellent report lies gathering dust while the obesity epidemic continues apace.

“The last people that ever seem to cross the Minister’s mind are the patients who will pay to be treated in unregulated clinics or languish on waiting lists for years they cannot afford to wait”, Dr Reilly added.


Anonymous - 16/06/2008 15:55

Surely for a girl as young as 13 there must be other options to tackle obesity,than something as drastic as gastric banding. If intervention is not done, how many more cases will we see of lives being lost as this surgery is done in cosmetic clinics - which might be fine for botox or glycol, but not for potentially life-threatening surgery. However, surely under the NTPF, when patients are waiting longer than 3 months for surgery, then they are entitled to have it carried out abroad. Don't obese patients have these rights too?

lilastragirl - 16/06/2008 17:10

I am 24 mother of 2 kids. I am 17 stone and 5ft7 I have just been to my doc this morning about getting referral letter for gastric banding done in beacon clinic in dublin. I rang them and total inclusive package cost 11.5k, pretty shocking eh!!! Does anyone know about claiming any of that back from med1 form or bupa etc???

Anonymous - 17/06/2008 09:02

Iliastra - if your a Quinn member they will be able to give you that information but bear in mind hat there is a waiting period with some insurers for existing conditions. Cliaming it back from the Med1 woiuld depend on the terms under which you are beign referred I think. If it is regarded as a cosmetic procedure, then the tax claim may not apply. If the referral was based on health grounds ( or due to an an underlying illness where all other avenues have been explored, for example) then you can claim it at your marginal rate of tax - ie if you pay a portion of tax at the higher rate, you can claim back at a higher rate. The number of children you have wouldn't affect this, I shouldn't think.

barbie86 - 17/06/2008 13:39

Gastric banding should be an absolute last resort. I think there are too many people now considering it without trying any other methods, such as dieting, properly first. People need to firstly be educated about the risks of obesity; few people realise quite how dangerous being obese is, and how many implications it has for both long term and short term health. We need to see a drop in the number of people becoming obese in the first place; people need to realise that diet and exercise are important regardless of what weight you are, and start watching what they eat even if they aren't overweight. People who ARE obese should be given lots of help and guidance in losing the weight in a safe way, and gastric banding is in my opinion very rarely the answer. Yes, losing weight through diet and exercise is by no means easy, but it can be done. Gastric banding and other such operations then should be a last resort, and only tried when all else has failed. In these cases, the operations should be carried out free of charge or at least subsidised, and people shouldn't be forced abroad for them.

Anonymous - 18/06/2008 12:26

Barbie, I was under the impression Gastric banding is in fact an absolute last resort - only for morbidly obese of obese patients whose health is being directly and immediately affected - and only where all other methids have failed. Have the criteria changed? While I think obesity awareness is increasing in terms of the risks, it is also the case that few people actually know what the threshold for obesity is and many people who regard themselves as a bit heavy or stout are actually tending towards obese (a BMI of 30+)

brendan.c1981 - 05/11/2011 14:26

hi guys, i realise that in america they are geetting gastric banding and sleeves like we just decide to change our socks, that really is a discrase, it is not a cosmetic procedure and should not be treated as such, i have to say it is a lot more stringent here in ireland and only rightly so, im on the waiting list for a gastric sleeve for a long time now, i have battled with weight all my life, i was born with a very bad foot complaint which has efected every part of my life, but with no exercise and lots of medication all my life my weight has just piled on, its a discrase that on one hand doctors will tell us we are morbidly obease and will die if we cant get rid of it, but yet they cant speed up our operations, if anyone knows of a way of speeding this operation up on medical card Please let me know, I feel like im hitting a brick wall and with a bmi of 63% i expect to be dead before they do the operation,

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