Experts say HSE has lost €56M by not implementing national obesity treatment policy

Justin Kelly


Justin Kelly


Experts say HSE has lost €56M by not implementing national obesity treatment policy

Ahead of European Obesity Day on May 20, the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition & Metabolism has launched, 'Obesity is a Chronic Disease requiring Treatment: A Call to Action.'

Obesity experts are calling on the government to implement a national obesity treatment programme to reduce the financial and societal burden from obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnoea, cancer and fertility issues.

"By recognising obesity as a disease of the brain and treating people with personalised treatment programmes, including diet, exercise, weight loss medicine, cognitive behavioural therapy, and surgery the HSE could have saved millions. For example, doing a minimum of 400 operations per year on patients with obesity and difficult to control diabetes would have saved €56 million over a 10-year period from a reduction in diabetes medication costs alone," the report states.

Ireland has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe and it affects more than one million people here: one in four adults are obese and one in four children are overweight or obese, making them highly likely to become obese adults.

Every year in Ireland, approximately 2,000 deaths are attributable to obesity. According to the World Health Organisation, 65% of the diabetes burden, 23% of the heart disease burden and between 7% and 41% of certain cancer burdens can be attributed to a person being overweight or obese.

The current cost of treating obesity-related diseases here is approximately €1.16 billion per annum: 35% of this cost is allocated to hospital care and medication costs and 65% is from indirect costs including productivity losses from absenteeism, the report suggests.

“Failing to accept obesity as a disease contributes to stigma, shame, stress and ultimately the worsening health of patients. Complications from obesity are common, they are costly to manage and have severe effects on a person’s wellbeing," says Professor Francis Finucane, Consultant in Obesity and Endocrinology, Galway University Hospital.

“I have seen the benefits of dedicated obesity treatment programmes in my clinic – these programmes provide a personalised holistic approach that help patients lose 10% or more body weight, remain compliant with their weight loss regime and lower their risk of death from heart disease and stroke. By taking this personalised approach, we can greatly reduce the costs of obesity-related diseases in Ireland and drastically improve people’s quality of life," Professor Finucane added.

“Through extensive medical research, we now know that only two in ten patients will respond to diet and exercise alone to achieve more than a 10% body weight loss. Eight out of ten need other therapies: three of these patients will respond to weight loss medication and five will respond to obesity surgery”, says Professor Carel le Roux, Diabetes Complications Research Centre, Conway Institute, UCD and IrSPEN board member.

“While prevention of obesity remains key, funding also needs to be allocated to mitigate and treat the disease itself. Given the cost effectiveness of treatment programmes and the potential for net savings, the failure to invest in these treatments for suitable patients is a false economy.”

The obesity call to action, supported by European and Irish expert bodies and patient organisations, urges immediate and decisive government action to address the gaps in our healthcare system that prevent those affected by the complications of obesity from accessing effective therapies that will help them achieve and sustain more than 10% loss in body weight.

Among its key recommendations aim to: gain recognition that obesity is a primary disease, implement existing government policy that obesity is a disease that requires treatment, provide treatment interventions that can help people with obesity lose at least 10% of their body weight to enable them to reduce their mortality and improve their quality of life, provide access to treatments within the HSE to provide maximum benefit to the largest number of people that will obtain value while still being cost effective for the HSE, establish a national obesity treatment programme and raise further public awareness.

European Obesity Day takes place on May 20 and you can click here for more information. 

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