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Can I Get Weight Loss Surgery on the NHS?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s highly unlikely that the NHS will pay for your weight loss surgery. The NHS is fast becoming focused on emergency care and cancer treatments, and the amount of weight loss procedures carried out continues to decrease each year.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, and a BMI between 25 and 30 is classified as overweight. Statistics published on the 6th August 2019 revealed that 28.7% of adults in England are obese and a further 35.6% are overweight but not obese.

Infographic detailing obesity rates in the UK and the amount of weight loss procedures performed on the NHS
Figure 1.0

Back in 2007, the NHS carried out 12,000 weight loss procedures, however, in 2018 that figure has significantly reduced to 4,500. The latest data shows that an average of 5,000 procedures are done each year on the NHS. To give some context that compares to over 35,000 in France, a country with a similar-sized population and slightly smaller obesity problem.

It is widely argued that weight loss surgery will pay for itself in 2 to 3 years, so as the UK’s obesity problem gets worse, why is it becoming less and less likely that you will be eligible for weight loss surgery on the NHS?

The NHS criteria

It’s no secret that the NHS lacks resources in every area of healthcare, and due to this, it is having to tighten the criteria to be considered for weight loss surgery, making it increasingly difficult to be eligible. Below is the NHS’s weight loss surgery criteria.

  • you have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more or a BMI between 35 and 40 and a serious condition that might improve if you lost weight (such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure)
  • you’ve tried all other weight loss methods, such as dieting and exercise, but have struggled to lose weight or keep it off
  • you agree to long-term follow-up after surgery – such as making healthy lifestyle changes and attending regular check-ups
  • you’re fit and healthy enough to have surgery under general anaesthetic (where you’re asleep)
  • you’ve been receiving or will receive treatment from a specialist obesity team

After being able to prove that you’ve exhausted all other methods of weight loss, you would have to get a GP referral, then go through a 6-12 month weight loss programme before eventually making it on to a surgeons waiting list – a process which would likely take 18 months at the very least.

What are the benefits of weight loss surgery?

The irony is that as the obesity problem continues to grow, it is argued that surgery done on the NHS would pay for itself in 2 to 3 years’ time by saving money on drugs to treat obesity-related health problems. Figure 2.0 shows the health problems that can be suppressed and even placed in remission as a result of gastric bypass surgery.

Infographic detailing the health benefits of gastric bypass surgery
Figure 2.0

There are lots of improvements to heath but perhaps the biggest benefit of all is that your life expectancy can be dramatically increased as a result of weight loss surgery.

Video: How my health improved after weight loss surgery

We have seen so many patients who have reversed their health conditions and are now living much happier and healthier lives as a result of their procedure, so it shouldn’t make sense that fewer procedures are taking place each year. But what we must remember is that this isn’t the NHS’s fault.

The growing challenge for the NHS

The truth is that there are so many challenging logistical issues and competing priorities. The bariatric surgeons we speak to and deal with day to day tell us their NHS numbers are down year on year, and there is no realistic prospect of that number going up soon.

Money is not the answer because there simply isn’t enough money to make the mammoth investment in the NHS that is required to deliver the service most of us would like to see; one in which you get treated for your disease quickly, regardless of what it is. When you consider that costs for drugs and instruments are running ahead of inflation and the amount being spent on defending legal claims is escalating rapidly, there simply isn’t the money to pay for more weight loss surgery.

Weight loss surgery is at present the best long-term treatment for obesity, especially for groups with a BMI above 40. However, when politicians are forced to make hard choices about how to spend the NHS budget, they prioritise other things. As a result, it’s highly unlikely that the NHS will pay for your surgery.

If you’re thinking of having weight loss surgery but aren’t sure which procedure is right for you, why not call the Healthier Weight team on 0800 313 4618 to get some information on the surgical and non-surgical treatment options available to you, or click the button below to get a quote.

Last review: 17/09/2020. All content on this page is reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team lead by Mr Rishi Singhal.

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