€1m bill for obesity ops despite fewer patients going under the knife
More than €1m was spent on surgery to treat morbid obesity in Irish public hospitals in 2017, figures from the HSE have revealed.
A total of 108 patients underwent procedures to surgically limit their food intake and reduce their weight at a cost of €1,035,170.
That is down from the 112 patients who received treatment in 2016, but a small increase in the total cost.
The number of people having such operations each year has more than doubled since 2010.
Nearly €6.3m has been spent on surgical procedures over a nine-year period, during which 745 people have gone under the knife.
The costly operations are designed to encourage weight loss.
The procedures, known as bariatric surgery, include gastric bypass operations, which redirect food away from some parts of the stomach and small intestine so the body absorbs fewer calories.
They also include gastric banding, which involves a band being placed around the upper part of the stomach to reduce its capacity so the patient feels full after eating small amounts
Other interventions include the insertion of gastric balloons, which take up space in the stomach and limit the volume of food that can be consumed.
Procedures for the treatment of morbid obesity are performed almost exclusively in two hospitals: St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin and University Hospital Galway.
The number of patients undergoing such procedures has increased substantially in recent years as Ireland's obesity crisis has worsened, with the World Health Organisation predicting that the country will become the fattest in Europe within the next decade.
In 2009, 55 patients availed of bariatric surgery at a cost of €450,606. This had increased to 98 patients and a cost of €686,812 by 2015.
The following year, the cost soared to just over €1m.
The figures show that each procedure costs an average of €8,400.
A spokesperson for the HSE said patients must complete a weight-management programme before being considered for bariatric surgery.
"Those who have successfully completed the appropriate programme and are deemed to require surgery are referred to an appropriate hospital," the spokesperson said.
"However, in some cases where the medical team observes contra-indications which can present over the course of participation in the weight-management programme, a person can be deemed an unsuitable candidate for surgery and may require a period of inpatient weight management."