Providing surgical treatment for people who are morbidly obese could save British taxpayer-funded health services and the wider economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year, leading surgeons said on Wednesday.
In an economic impact assessment of obesity surgery, Britain’s Royal College of Surgeons and the National Obesity Forum said the financial toll of unemployment, welfare payments, hospital costs and prescriptions caused by obesity could be cut drastically if more patients had weight-loss surgery.
The report was written by an independent consultancy called the Office of Health Economics and funded by the health firms Allergan and Covidien, both of whom make medical equipment used in weight-loss, or so-called bariatric, surgery.
Bariatric surgery is performed on people who are dangerously obese, as a way of trying to help them lose weight. The idea is to reduce the size of the stomach, either with a gastric band or a gastric bypass that re-routes the small intestines to a small stomach pouch, or by removing a portion of the stomach.
Critics of weight-loss surgery say its long-term risks are largely unknown, particularly in children, and argue it should be a last resort for morbidly obese people who have failed to lose weight by changing their diet and lifestyle.
The British report said that if five percent of eligible UK patients were given weight-loss surgery on the taxpayer-funded National Health Service (NHS), the gain to the economy within three years would be 382 million pounds. If 25 percent got surgery, the gain in three years would be 1.3 billion pounds.
On top of that, it said, the government could also expect to save between 35 million and 150 million pounds in welfare payments as people were able to return to work.
Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which advises the government on the cost-effectiveness of drugs and medical treatments, recommends that patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, or those with a BMI of 35 or more and other serious illnesses, should be assessed for weight-loss surgery.
BMI is equal to weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. A person 5 feet 5 inches tall (165 cm) with a BMI of 40 would weigh more than 240 pounds (109 kg).
Wednesday’s report said that around a million people in England have a BMI that meets NICE criteria and around a quarter of those are both fit for and willing to have surgery - yet only 3,600 weight-loss operations were carried out within the NHS in the year 2009/10.
“These figures are simply staggering,” John Black, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said in a statement with the report. “The NHS can not afford to ignore the mounting evidence that shows that bariatric surgery, for those patients where all other treatments have failed, is not only proven to be successful but also hugely cost-effective.”
A study published last month found that use of weight-loss surgery has increased 10-fold in hospitals in England since 2000 and that those who have gastric bands fitted can reduce their risk of early death and cut health service costs.
LONDON (Reuters) -