Obesity now comes second only to smoking as a cause of premature deathin Europe and North America. It’s estimated to cost the NHS around £4bn a year. Yet last week, surgeons lambasted the NHS for severely limiting access to stomach-shrinking surgery. There were just 5,000 of these potentially lifesaving operations carried out in the UK last year, many fewer per head than in countries such as France, Belgium and Sweden.
What’s going on? The procedure is the most effective way of helping people who are obese to lose weight and can have a radical impact on their quality of life. At approximately £6,000 per operation, it’s relatively cheap and saves the NHS significant amounts of money on more expensive procedures such as hip and knee replacements further down the line. But here in Britain, it is being reserved only for the most extreme cases.
The NHS has never been very good at spending a little in the here and now to save a lot of pain and money later on. But the bad economics evident here are particularly striking. Top obesity surgeon Francesco Rubino says he has become convinced that this is not just about the up-front cost of the surgery, but the social stigma of being fat.