Thinking About Weight Loss Surgery Abroad – 10 Reasons Not to Do It!

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We are always concerned when we hear that a patient has decided to have their weight loss surgery overseas, but why do we think this? We know that price is important and the overseas providers are usually cheaper. There are reasons their prices are lower than those in the UK so although the price might be tempting you need to understand the risks you are taking when you accept it. There have been many stories in the news recently about patients who went overseas and regretted it. Here are 10 specific reasons to think long and hard about before making an overseas trip for your surgery:

1. No Care Quality Commission protection

In the UK healthcare consumers are protected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The CQC ensures that all healthcare providers are registered and adhere to high standards of patient care. The CQC audits providers on a regular basis. Overseas providers do not operate under the CQC regime. UK healthcare standards are regarded as among the leaders in the world as evidenced by the fact that so many clinical trials are focused on the United Kingdom. It’s interesting to note that another country with a very high standard is the United States. In the US surgery fees are appreciably higher than in the UK. In lower cost markets patients should check that regulatory standards are the same as those in the UK.

2. GMC registered surgeons

All of our surgeons are on the GMC specialist register in the UK. This would not apply to foreign surgeons.

3. No insurance protection

Patients attending overseas hospitals and clinics would not have the same insurance protection provided by UK providers. Bringing a claim in a foreign country against a foreign insurer would be difficult and expensive if possible at all. This assumes that the clinic in question has insurance.

4. Limited opportunity to bring malpractice legal cases

In the UK, patients are protected by the laws of England and Wales. If a victim of medical malpractice, you are able to bring a claim on a no win no fee basis. This would not be possible for overseas surgery.

5. Inadequate aftercare

your success with a weight loss surgery is dependent on the quality of aftercare you receive. You need to be in regular contact with the clinic by phone and to attend clinic appointments in order to get the most out of your procedure. This applies to bands, sleeves, bypasses and balloons.

6. The consequences of an extended stay in a hospital

It is inevitable that a small proportion of patients will experience a complication and some of these complications will require an extended stay in a hospital. In the case of sleeve patients, these stays could last several days or weeks. A patient who develops a sleeve leak could stay in a hospital for about 4 weeks. Who would pay for this and what would be the consequence in terms of your commitments at home?

7. What if you need to be transferred to a public hospital

UK guidelines demand that sleeve and bypass procedures are done in hospitals with high dependency facilities. Even so, there are occasions when patients need to be transferred to an NHS hospital, for example if they experience a ‘bleed’. Where would you be transferred if you have a complication and does the hospital you are attending have adequate HDU facilities to do a weight loss surgery case?

8. How would remedial surgery be handled

5-10% of patients will need to have a remedial procedure to fix something with their band. This is usually a leaking access port. Within our package we fix this problem under warranty at a private hospital in the UK. How would this be handled if you have your surgery overseas?

9. Quality of equipment and disposable items

A large part of your surgery fee goes on the equipment and consumable items that are used during the procedure. In the case of a gastric band, nearly £1000 of the fee goes on the band alone. At Healthier Weight we use the highest standard band available, the Apollo AP band. Many cheaper alternatives are available and you should check what is being used in your case. In the case of the sleeve and the bypass, about £2000 of the procedure fee goes towards the cutting and stapling ‘cartridges’ that are used to cut and seal the stomach. If you are paying a very low price for your procedure you should check that these consumables are of the highest standard and comparable to those you would have in the UK. If these stapling instruments are of the lower standard you are more susceptible to a staple line leakage of your sleeve procedure.

10. Involvement of your GP

Before you have surgery with Healthier Weight we will notify your GP. This is important because if you have a procedure without notifying them they are entitled to withhold all future treatment. Inevitably, when you have your surgery overseas there will be reduced communication with your GP. On top of all this, you ought to consider the travel itself. Travelling too soon after surgery, and potentially being ill in transit For most procedures it is wise to wait a week or so before flying. In the case of sleeve and bypass, we encourage patients to wait a few weeks before flying. When you fly the air in the stomach expands. This could put a strain on staple lines. If you have a sleeve or bypass surgery overseas, you should plan to stay for 3 weeks minimum before flying. In the case of a gastric band, you could reduce this to about a week. Often, we hear of patients having surgery and flying home the next day. This is against best practice and puts the patient at increased risk of a complication.

Rishi Singhal

Rishi Singhal

Rishi is an expert bariatric surgeon based in the West Midlands and also Medical Director at Healthier Weight

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