Concern over obesity rates in Wales as medical professionals call for better funding for bariatric surgery

Surgeons and healthcare professionals in Wales are concerned over a lack of funding for bariatric surgery and obesity treatments across the country, despite the launch of an all-Wales strategy more than three years ago.

The Royal College of Surgeons Professional Affairs Board in Wales and the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society (BOMSS) have outlined their concerns in a written submission to the National Assembly for Wales’ Health and Social Care Committee Inquiry into the availability of Bariatric Services in Wales.

The document highlights that both organisations believe the current system in Wales is skewed and results in patients being forced to wait until they develop life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes or a stroke before they meet the qualifying criteria for surgery.

Consultant surgeon and BOMSS member Jon Barry, based at the Morriston Hospital Swansea, says: “We have serious concerns about a lack of access to weight management and preventative services in Wales. We believe that patients are being denied life-saving and cost-effective treatments and effectively encouraged to gain more weight in order to have a more complex operation further down the line. We believe to limit surgery to the most severely obese is denying patients effective clinical treatment and a better quality of life.”

The Royal College of Surgeons and BOMSS are calling on the Welsh Government to fully implement the recommendations in Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee’s ‘Review of Bariatric Surgery Provision and Access Criteria in the Context of the All Wales Obesity Pathway Report’ to optimise patients outcomes and ensure that patients in Wales have access to sustainable, safe and high quality bariatric services.

They also want a “step by step increase” in the population rate of bariatric surgery to ensure a move to full compliance with NICE guidelines and BOMSS standards.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines stipulate morbidly obese patients with a BMI of 40 or higher should have access to bariatric surgery, or with a BMI of 35 or higher if they suffer from other obesity-related illnesses.

However, in Wales, current restrictions mean patients require a BMI higher than 50 – and to suffer from other related health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular disease – before they can access surgery.

There is currently only one unit in Wales funded to provide obesity surgery, the Welsh Institute of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery (WIMOS) at Morriston Hospital, Swansea. WIMOS provides a full multi-disciplinary team, pre-operative assessment and follow-up service for two years following surgery. WIMOS has two full time consultant bariatric surgeons. Currently, patients in North Wales travel to England to have surgery.

Notes to editors

• The Royal College of Surgeons is a professional body that sets the highest possible standards for surgical practice and training in order to deliver safe and high quality patient care. The Royal College of Surgeons Professional Affairs Board in Wales provides a means by which surgeons at the front line can work together to share information, bring concerns to local decision-makers and look for solutions which benefit patients and lead to better patient outcomes.

• The British Obesity & Metabolic Surgery Society (BOMSS) is the professional society of surgeons involved in obesity management. Membership of the society includes medical professionals and allied health professionals including specialist nurses, psychologists and dieticians. BOMSS aims to promote the development of high quality centres for obesity surgery, to educate and train future obesity surgeons and practitioners and to guide commissioning and policy for the use of obesity surgery in the UK.