Hundreds of morbidly obese Kiwis could have lifesaving stomach-stapling operations if New Zealand's Health Ministry's plan for publicly funding obesity surgeries is given the green signal.
Health officials are exploring the idea of routine stomach stapling operations, to help prevent people getting fatter. According to them, the one-off cost of the $20,000 operation would be less compared to the cost of treating an ongoing obesity-related illness.
National MP Chester Borrows, who paid for his own stomach stapling operation last year, had his weight reduced from 145 kg to 93 kg.† He said it had given him "a new life".
The country's top gastric surgeon Richard Stubbs however, says increasing the number of publicly funded stomach-stapling operations will not only depend on funding, but the availability of experienced surgeons and hospital capacity.
According to him, the wrong type of operation could lead to a lifetime of complications for patients and create ongoing costs for hospital boards.
"While the traditional lap-band operation is the simplest and cheapest [$15,000], around 10 per cent of patients need surgical revision every year ... the band can slip or erode into the stomach, and some people have died," said Dr. Stubbs.
Dr. Stubbs has done 850 gastric bypass operations using a pouch technique, which costs $25,000 and only one patient needed repeat surgery because of rare complications.
Dr. Stubbs agreed that lap-band operations were better than nothing.† He also observed that for the first time, there seemed to be "a real will" on the part of health authorities and the Government to make it work.
On average, obesity surgery added 10 years to a patient's life, and also improved the quality of that life, Professor Stubbs said.†