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Is gastric band surgery and other weight loss surgery an easy answer?
According to the media and the Department of Health’s own figures, we are currently facing an obesity epidemic. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) now recommends weight loss surgery (“bariatric” surgery) as a first-line option of treatment for people with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of more than 50. There are also many private hospitals and clinics offering to perform surgery and for many this is seen as an easy answer. But is it?
Certainly weight loss surgery, if it works, can be very effective indeed. Not only with weight loss itself but in combatting the associated problems of diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea and joint damage.
However, a patient’s underlying condition of medical obesity means that weight loss surgery is inherently riskier compared with other surgeries. Not only does the condition necessarily mean that surgical treatment is technically demanding but also that there are greater risks of complications such as increased risk of death during the surgery. Post operatively risks include wound infection, respiratory problems and deep vein thrombosis (“DVT”). It can be seen that weight loss surgery is therefore not an “easy” or “quick fix” option. If there has been negligence during the procedure then the consequences can be especially devastating.
I acted for Rachel who features on the Channel 5 TV show: When Gastric Bands Go Wrong.
Rachel paid privately for gastric bypass surgery in an attempt to lose weight. Following the surgery she developed a leak as her bowel had not been re-joined properly. Our medical negligence claim was that her surgeon had not undertaken the proper checks to make sure he re-joined the bowel.
As a result, Rachel had to be rushed back into the operating theatre because the contents of her bowel were leaking through the join causing life-threatening blood poisoning. She needed emergency surgery to repair the bowel but her body went into systemic shock.
Consequently, Rachel had a stormy course with a tracheostomy, being placed on a ventilator and in intensive care for 2 months. She also developed multiple adhesions which meant extreme pain when she moved or ate. Her bowel function was severely affected meaning a liquid diet only for 5 years. She needed enemas to help her go to the toilet and suffered from embarrassing diarrhoea.
Rachel was unable to go back to work and still struggles with fatigue. She has had many operations since the original weight loss surgery in an attempt to improve her quality of life. The TV documentary films her as she is having a “pacemaker” fitted to try to stimulate the nerves and allow her to go to the toilet more normally.
Of course compensation will never erase Rachel’s difficulties but the money I was able to secure for her through the medical negligence claim has helped her to cope financially with her inability to work and buy in aids and therapy that would not be readily available on the NHS.
I continue to act for many other clients who have had significant problems with gastric band surgery and other weight loss surgery. There are many possibilities: the surgery itself is not performed correctly; the wrong type of surgery is performed; the surgery is unsuitable for the patient or when recognised complications occur over time – such as band slippage – these are not identified and treated properly.
As said earlier, if the surgery works then it is very effective in reducing weight and associated health problems, but it is essential that the patient is properly advised of the risks and benefits before the operation; that the surgeon performing the procedure has the right experience and crucially that the surgery is undertaken competently otherwise it creates far more problems than it solves.
If you have any queries or would like to discuss with me any concerns over weight loss surgery, past or planned, then please contact the Clinical Negligence Team.