At least two people have died after travelling abroad for weight-loss surgery in the past six months, according to a leading Irish surgeon.
Doctors are warning that they are seeing catastrophic and life-threatening complications in patients who have travelled to Turkey for bariatric surgery.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, St Vincent’s Hospital Consultant Bariatric Surgeon Helen Heneghan said there has been a four-fold increase in patients presenting with complications after travelling abroad.
“We have experienced a particular problem with this in the last two years,” she said. “Probably since the summer of 2020 when the number of patients returning [increased].
“It has always been an issue because this type of surgery is very difficult to access in Ireland. After the first lockdown eased in the summer of 2020, patients started going abroad – clearly in their droves based on the number of presentations back afterwards with problems.
“So, in our experience in St Vincent’s it increased four-fold. We don’t know how many patients are going abroad we just see the volume of complications coming back. That has certainly increased four-fold, which should probably reflect a massive increase in the volume of people travelling.”
Professor Heneghan said the main issue is that patients are not being fully prepared for what is a life-changing operation that completely changes their relationship with food.
She said patients in Ireland undergo six or nine months of preparation before surgery – with patients who travel sometimes going under the knife within 24 hours of arriving at foreign clinics.
In more severe cases, there is also a question mark over the quality of surgery on offer.
“We do see some catastrophic complications and that does make me think corners are cut somewhere in terms of the quality of surgery,” she said.
“We have had two deaths in the Republic of Ireland that I am aware of in the last six months and that is very rare.”
Professor Heneghan said patients tend to travel for two reasons – long waiting lists in Ireland and the high cost of surgery in the private sector.
“A lot of it is based on cost,” she said. “A lot of the companies that provide this service advertise heavily on social media and target particularly young women, who are the group we would be most concerned about.
“They are quite vulnerable and [companies] certainly prey on that vulnerability through social media campaigns.”
She said the waiting lists in Ireland are a huge problem.
“The main reason people travel is our waiting list here is just too long,” she said.
“It is over four years on average to get an appointment in our national weight management clinic and if patients were to seek it in the private sector here, it is probable four to five times more expensive than if they went to Turkey for example.”
The St Vincent’s professor said that ,while she would urge people not to travel for surgery, she can understand why they do it.
“If people are travelling abroad, I would really urge them to be cautious in making sure they are assessed properly by a multi-disciplinary team,” she said.
“Not just in the 24 hours before the surgery. It really takes months to prepare for this.”
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