Image of person packing suitcase to travel abroad for weight loss surgery

The Risks of Travelling Abroad for Weight Loss Surgery

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After the unfortunate recent news of a 25-year-old man sadly passing away after travelling to Turkey for a gastric sleeve procedure, it’s important that we clarify the short and long term impact of cut-price weight loss surgery abroad. Although you may save a bit of cash, the risks of travelling overseas for your weight loss procedure greatly outweigh the benefits. It is unlikely you will be covered if a complication were to arise, you are not protected by the CQC and in many cases, there is no aftercare whatsoever.

Standards

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 and 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.

All of our surgeons are on the General Medical Council (GMC) specialist register in the UK which will not apply to surgeons who operate abroad. The GMC work to protect patient safety and improve medical education and practice across the UK. By working with doctors, employers, educators and patients, the GMC assures high standards of care.

High standards aren’t just achieved by having a renowned surgeon, though. A large part of your surgery fee is for 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.

Protection

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

In the UK, patients are also protected by the laws of England and Wales. If you become 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 weight loss surgery abroad.

Protection, however, stretches further than insurance and laws. How often do we rely on our local GP to protect us? When you have treatment overseas and do not disclose it to your GP, they are entitled to withhold future treatment.

Aftercare

Your long term success with your procedure is dependent on high-quality aftercare. Anyone who has had weight loss surgery will tell you this is crucial. All too frequently, overseas weight loss surgery packages have no aftercare. Most importantly they do not include a blood test in the first year for sleeve and bypass patients.

You need to be in regular contact with the clinic by phone and to attend appointments in order to get the most out of your procedure. With a gastric band, it is likely that you will need at least 3 band adjustments in the first 6 months to get your band working just right for you. A Healthier Weight patient will receive free band adjustments for two years, but what if you had your weight loss surgery abroad? Your chances of succeeding are massively reduced without access to the correct post-surgery care and attention.

Furthermore, 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 band implanted overseas?

We work with some of the most highly skilled bariatric surgeons in the world, but aftercare is perhaps the most important ingredient to success. For every Healthier Weight patient, each procedure comes with a tailored aftercare package including lifelong 1-2-1 support, specialist clinic reviews and a long term follow up plan. Click the button below to find out everything you need to know about our aftercare.

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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