Weight loss surgery: The woman who travelled to Latvia after 'giving up' waiting for NHS

  • Video report by Dot Davies

A woman who travelled to Latvia for a gastric bypass has told ITV News she was so desperate for the surgery after waiting years trying to get help in Wales.

Stacie Mai Flanigan has always struggled with her weight, and despite various attempts to lose weight through diet and exercise, she said her size still had a big impact on her wellbeing.

Almost two thirds (62%) of the Welsh population is either overweight or obese. Last year around 5,000 tourists travelled from the UK to Latvia for medical treatment.

Bariatric surgery is available on the NHS in Wales after an assessment for suitability, but there are long waiting times with some patients having to wait more than two years for the treatment.

Stacie has lost two stone since undergoing her surgery

Stacie said the long waiting lists, combined with what she perceived as a myriad of hoops she was asked to jump through, led her to consider radical solutions.

“I’ve tried nearly everything that’s out there and every time I ask for help, people just say eat less and move more and lose weight", Stacey told ITV Wales' Y Byd Ar Bedwar programme.

"I’ve had enough of doctors going ‘(it’s) her own fault she’s got this, send her home.”

The high cost of going private in the UK saw her look abroad for cheaper solutions. Using a company called Weight Loss Riga, she paid £6,000 for travel, a hotel and gastric bypass surgery.

Stacie said she understood the risks involved and felt it was a gamble she had to take. “The worst (case scenario) is that I’d come home in a coffin. But I feel that could happen anyway, being overweight. I’m either going to die sooner, or I’m going to live a very miserable life.”

Stacie said more support on the NHS would benefit a lot of people living with weight loss issues

She added, “I just want to go out and do things and not be restricted by the weight or ability.”

ITV cameras followed Stacie to Latvia for the surgery.

Stacie paid £6,000 to travel to Latvia for the operation

Stacie was one of five people from the UK that doctors were operating on that day. The clinic performs around 30 of these kinds of operations every week.

The only NHS bariatric surgery unit in Morriston Hospital in Swansea performed around ten a month before the covid pandemic.

The surgery lasted two hours and part of the operation saw the doctor create a smaller stomach for Stacie which he attached to her bowel.

Following the operation Stacie will have to change her way of life forever. Possible long term side effects include malnutrition, gallstones and excess skin because the new smaller stomach can only take a fraction of the food it previously could.

Since undergoing the procedure last month, Stacie has lost two stone.

Stacie said the weight management service, which is offered on the NHS, "doesn't work".

“[They say] Just keep doing what you’re doing but doing more, eat less, move more.

“I feel that whilst it makes sense, I find it a very old fashioned concept. It doesn’t work for everyone. Especially when you factor in people with additional conditions... it changes everything.

“I completely agree there’s a lot more things out there that need funding and need financing, but then equally why should people have to suffer when there’s something that could help them?"

In response, the Welsh Government said it is working with health boards "to consider what resources are needed to support people with weight management".

It added, "[We] are providing an extra £5.8m over 2022-24 to improve provision, this includes looking at increasing capacity for bariatric surgery."

It added it would encourage people who are traveling abroad to check that they are dealing with someone reputable.

"The NHS provides emergency care for any person in need regardless of whether treatment was provided by the NHS or privately in the UK or abroad. If people are considering private healthcare of any sort, it is important they research it properly before undergoing treatment. We would encourage people to check they are dealing with someone reputable, ask to see their qualifications, ask about complications and side effects and, if possible speak to other people who have been treated at the same clinic or hospital.” 

  • Watch Y Byd ar Bedwar on S4C 21 November at 8.20pm. The programme has English language subtitles.