Why won’t the NHS pay for my weight loss surgery?

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Good question. The financial argument for the NHS to pay for an operation for every person who has a BMI above 35 coupled with a serious weight related co-morbidity (such as Type 2 Diabetes or Sleep Apnoea) is very compelling indeed. Most studies show that the pay back would be within 2 years! Isn’t it madness therefore not to treat these people?

Some of you may have seen the surgeon, Mr Ahmed, on the TV the other week, I think the program was called Hospital, scrabbling around Imperial College Hospital trying to find beds for 2 of his patients who urgently need weight loss surgery. Isn’t it mad to think that there is a patient who needs the surgery, a surgeon, anaesthetist and theatre team ready to go, a business case that says that the NHS will be saving money from doing the procedure very quickly BUT still it doesn’t get done! 

It’s not the fault of the NHS. It’s full of great people. We probably all have personal experience of that. However, costs are running ahead of inflation and that won’t change. The truth is that there are just so many challenging logistical issues and competing priorities that many patients who would benefit from surgery, whether weight loss patients or patients with other diseases, have to wait and wait and wait. Mr Ahmed said it all when he explained that the 750 cases per year that he was doing at Imperial a few years ago has now dropped to about 200. There is no realistic prospect of that number going up either.

Money is not the answer because there simply isn’t enough money to make the mammoth investment in the NHS that would be needed 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. Whether you support Mrs May, Mr Corbyn or any of the other political party leaders they all know that there is no way of plugging the hole in the bottom of the NHS bucket, and we are going to have to start to change our minds about just how much we can expect the NHS to do for us. That requires a mature debate across party lines… but it was ever thus and I have a suspicion it won’t happen now.

If you are obese and want a surgical procedure to help you deal with it, increasingly, the likelihood is that you will need to fund that operation yourself.

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