Doctors and medical professionals in Northern Ireland

By James McNaney

Patients from Northern Ireland are forced to go abroad for bariatric surgery due to a lack of services here, the Royal College of GPs has said.

Dr Ursula Mason says patients who go abroad "feel they've nowhere else to go" because there isn't a properly resourced service in NI.

She also told UTV that patients who return to Northern Ireland after getting these procedures often do not have access to the appropriate aftercare they require.

Surgeon Andrew Kennedy said some patients were going straight to their GP of to emergency departments straight from the airport with "post-operative complications".

"It's an unfortunate consequence of a patient's decision to go to Turkey", Mr Kennedy told UTV, "that perhaps that it hasn't been explained to the patient of the likelihood of complications.

"The big deficiency from our point of view would be the pre-procedure assessment which seems quite expedited, and essentially only occurs when [a patient] is in Turkey, and the lack of any safety-netting following discharge or any long-term follow-up plan."

Dr Mason also believes that GPs in NI are being asked to provide specialist follow-up care for complications from bariatric procedures, that at times they're "not equipped or resourced to do."

"I've spoken to some colleagues who've said that they've had five or six patients come off a bus from Turkey and some of them are really sick in the post-operative period.

"But that longer term monitoring of patients is not with energy GP's remit, it's not within our field of expertise.

"Sometimes we find ourselves having to have very difficult conversations with patients about what they can and can't expect from a follow up in their GP practice."

Dr Mason said that these types of post-operative are "100%" impacting on GPs already stretched capacity.

"I mean anything that is not resourced and that falls at the door of general practice as something extra.

"So for every patient that we have to talk to you about, post bariatric complications or long term monitoring means that we can't deal with a patient who's coming for another reason.

"Now that's not to take away from the fact that these patients feel they've nowhere else to go and they are taking these steps to go to Turkey because there isn't a service here.

"And so I don't want to come across as saying that that's not the right thing to do. But what I would say is that we need a properly resourced service."

Dr Laura McGowan, a psychologist at Queen's University Belfast who studies diet and weight change, says the population of NI "really don't have any specialist weight management services available".

She added that 27% of adults here live with obesity, and that people in every other region of the UK can access specialist weight management services.

"There are lots of different ways we can try and prevent obesity", Dr McGowan said, "but it is also critically important that we have the services available to treat and manage those people who already have obesity."

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