Surgery for obese could 'save millions of pounds'
Following NICE guidance on bariatric surgery could save the economy hundreds of millions of pounds and the NHS around £56 million every year, leading surgeons said yesterday.
The financial toll of unemployment, housing and incapacity benefit, hospital admissions and prescriptions is increasing every year but could be cut dramatically if people were given surgery, the report says.
The direct cost of obesity and related illnesses to the NHS is £4.3 billion a year and millions more to the wider economy in England.
But the report by the Royal College of Surgeons reveals that many Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are not following NICE guidelines, which say people with a body mass index (BMI) over 40, or between 35 and 40 if they also have a condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, are eligible for surgery.
If 5 per cent of eligible patients were given weight-loss surgery, the gain to the economy within three years would be £382 million.
If a quarter of eligible patients were granted surgery, the gain within three years would be £1.3 billion.
The Government could also expect savings in benefit payments of £35 million to £150 million as people head back to work, the study said.
If NICE guidance was followed, direct NHS cost savings would be around £56 million a year.
Taking these figures into account, experts argued that weight-loss surgery effectively pays for itself within a year.
Around a million people in England meet the NICE criteria for surgery, while around a quarter are both fit for the operation and want it.
However, barely 4,000 NHS weight-loss operations were carried out last year.
One in 10 deaths from cancer among non-smokers are due to obesity and the risk of developing type-2 diabetes is 20 times greater for people who are very obese.
Studies have shown that seriously obese people are likely to die on average 11 years earlier than those who are a healthy weight.
Almost a quarter of adults in England were obese in 2008 - a figure set to double by 2050. Some 66 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women were overweight or obese.
Today's report, called Shedding The Pounds and carried out by the Office of Health Economics, included data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
It revealed PCTs are either ignoring NICE guidelines and rationing care for all but the most severely ill patients, or offering no service at all.
Half of PCTs use only 'elements' of the NICE guidelines while one in 10 ignore the guidance completely.
Further cuts are expected, with a third of PCTs saying they would be more stringent with patients when applying the rules, and none planning on relaxing their own criteria.
The report found wide variations in how many operations are carried out each year, from one in one health trust to 192 in another.
Peter Sedman, from the Association of Laparoscopic Surgeons (ALS), said: "Patients do not choose to have surgery because it is an easy option; they have it because all other treatment methods have failed.
NICE recommends that bariatric surgery is only offered as a last resort treatment for patients who have failed to lose weight through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.
Mr Sedman added: "Surgery can literally transform lives, getting people back to work and contributing fully to society.
"If we do not continue to put resources into this cost-effective and proven successful method of treatment, the financial burden on society and the NHS caused by obesity-related illness in years to come will be crippling."
John Black, President of the Royal College of Surgeons described the figures as “simply staggering.”
"The NHS cannot 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,” he said.
9 September 2010
This page was last updated: 09 September 2010