One of the UK’s leading bariatric* surgeons has expressed serious concern about the extremely poor levels of aftercare being provided to many weight loss surgery patients by private hospitals who offer ‘cut-price’ surgery both here and abroad.

Consultant laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon David Kerrigan, the Royal College of Surgeons’ representative who advised the government on the NICE obesity guidelines in use today, said the lack of follow up care provided by some hospitals was ‘shocking’ and could put patients’ lives at risk.

“I have long been concerned about hospitals who in effect abandon patients after surgery to keep costs down and make a bigger margin then just turn a blind eye when things go wrong,” said Mr Kerrigan, former secretary and founder member of the British Obesity Surgery Society.

“It takes a great deal of money and commitment to put the resources in place to allow patients 24/7 access to the surgeon and his team and provide specialist medical advice at every step of the way following bariatric surgery.

“What I strongly object to is the way in which certain private hospitals offer surgery on the cheap at the expense of the aftercare and the patients never see the surgeon again.

“In my opinion, it’s absolutely vital that the surgeon who operated is directly involved in the patient’s aftercare. Some hospitals simply have an advisor or a nurse at the end of the phone and it’s just not acceptable.

“Patients often think they’re getting a good deal but sadly cut-price weight loss surgery generally means cut-down care,” adds Mr Kerrigan, who is also medical director of Gravitas, a network of weight loss surgeons in the UK and Ireland committed to working to the highest ethical and professional standards in bariatric surgery.

“Patients need to be cautioned strongly about what they are letting themselves in for. Adequate medically supervised aftercare is essential to ensure that they receive not just a good result, but a safe one.”

As Mr Kerrigan points out, this is particularly critical with gastric banding**. “What patients often don’t realise is that follow up care is absolutely crucial to getting the result they want.

“Sometimes complications can set in months or even years after the operation is performed and need to be picked up quickly under the ongoing care of a surgeon who can deal with a problem at the drop of a hat. If they are not, the patient could be seriously at risk.

“The trouble is, if complications develop and a patient can’t get easy access to a specialist surgeon, it’s often left to the NHS or the local GP to pick up the pieces. Patients may well end up seeing a non specialist who has no idea what to do. It’s a dreadful state of affairs.”

Mr Kerrigan said he was concerned too about the worrying number of reports filtering through about certain private hospitals who bend the NICE guidelines by operating on ‘desperate’ patients with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 35 who do not meet the criteria as they are too light for surgery.

“It’s professionally and ethically wrong for private hospitals to perform specialist surgery outside the NICE guidelines for what can only be described as pure financial gain,” he said.

“Although this has been happening in Europe for a while, it’s disturbing that it now seems to be occurring in the UK too. Bariatric surgery should never be carried out just because a patient is desperate to lose a bit of weight for cosmetic reasons,” he said.

“This type of specialist surgery should not be undertaken lightly. Although it’s an extremely effective and valuable treatment in heavier patients, in lighter ones it’s like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Mr Kerrigan added that successful weight loss is very dependent on the strength of the partnership patients develop with their surgeon and his or her team.

“They will need the surgeon’s help long after their operation has been performed if they are to get the most out of it,” he said. “Sadly, not all weight loss surgery providers are willing to make this commitment to their patients.

“The sad truth for many patients is that they don’t realise when they are being sold cut-price surgery that they will not be receiving the complete package of care necessary to maximise the chances of a safe and successful outcome.” ENDS

*weight loss

** An effective weight loss surgery procedure used to help overweight people achieve significant and long-term weight loss.

About David Kerrigan

MD with Distinction (1992), FRCS, FRCSEd (1986), MBChB (1982)

Honorary senior lecturer in surgery at the University of Liverpool, Mr Kerrigan practises at the Spire Murrayfield Hospital, Wirral and is amongst the elite of UK bariatric surgeons. He is medical director of Gravitas, which has created a pioneering network of doctors and surgeons in the UK and Ireland committed to working to the highest ethical and professional standards in bariatric surgery. Awarded the prestigious ‘team of the year’ accolade for innovative surgical practice by the independent Association for the Study of Obesity in 2009, Gravitas treats both private and NHS patients and has helped train many bariatric surgeons in the UK through its fellowship programme for senior surgical trainees. Widely respected by both the public and his surgical peers for his technical skill and commitment to uncompromisingly high standards of bariatric care and aftercare, David Kerrigan is a pioneer of laparoscopic (keyhole) bariatric surgery in the UK and has lectured widely on this subject both here and abroad. His work has been featured in numerous television and newspaper reports.