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Patient safety

Bariatric Surgery – ‘The Magic Wand?’

obese fat magic wand
obese fat magic wand

Dr Shaw Somers

Specialist Upper Gastrointestinal and Bariatric Surgeon

For many people suffering with obesity, there appears to be no way to control their weight in the long-term. But we know that weight loss is powerful medicine.

There is no doubt that a 10% reduction in weight will alleviate most weight-related illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver and sleep apnoea – the silent killer. With up to a 25% weight reduction, most people report life-changing improvements in health and quality-of-life. Bariatric surgery is one of the few treatments that can achieve these benefits in the long-term.

So, why does bariatric surgery work so well? We now know that hunger, satiety (satisfaction with food intake) and metabolic function rarely change for the better with diets alone. However, after bariatric surgery is performed, measurements show significant and sustained improvements in all three of these key elements of weight control. Most people who undergo weight loss surgery report a rapid change in their feelings towards food, with improved food behaviours and enhanced satisfaction with smaller meal sizes.

Recovery in just two weeks

The fast pace of progress in the understanding of obesity as a disease – plus advances in minimally invasive (‘keyhole’ surgery) – have established bariatric surgery as a mainstream treatment. Many hundreds of thousands of people have been helped worldwide. It is safe, well-tolerated by patients and demonstrably effective in reducing weight and improving health. Our UK National Bariatric Surgery Registry proves that all forms of weight-loss surgery are among the safest abdominal procedures. People having bariatric surgery can expect to stay less that 48 hours in hospital after surgery, and have full recovery within two weeks. 

Don’t just pick a procedure off the internet

There is a variety of surgical options for people with obesity. All bariatric operations have been shown to achieve good weight loss when correctly performed and when patients receive appropriate follow-up. The choice of bariatric procedure should be made individually with the guidance of a bariatric specialist team. It is seldom possible to achieve a good result by simply picking a procedure after an internet search. The key to successful outcomes is good preparation by a multidisciplinary team including dietitian, specialist nurse, psychologist and bariatric specialist. These professionals will be involved in the post-operative dietary rehabilitation and longer-term follow-up.

More funding needed for NHS bariatric services

Is this treatment available on the NHS? Yes, but despite bariatric surgery paying for itself within three to five years in reduced medications and operations, new money needs to be invested in services before these savings are realised. This has significantly hampered the development of NHS bariatric services. By comparison, we perform about 10 times fewer procedures than France. This clearly needs to change if we are going to have any impact on the spiraling costs of severe obesity in our population.

When I am asked, I would suggest that people considering weight-loss surgery should seek advice from a specialist service run by experienced professionals. There is a network of regional NHS centres for this, which can be accessed via referral from a GP.

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