Proposals for Northern Ireland’s first health service bariatric surgery centre are to be taken forward by a service planning group appointed by the Department of Health.
The assessment will focus on South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen as the location for the proposed service.
The service planning group will be jointly headed by consultant surgeon Mark Taylor and Alastair Campbell, Director of Hospital Services Reform in the Department.
The management of obesity through appropriate lifestyle measures such as a healthy diet and exercise remains the best approach for dealing with childhood and adult obesity. However, there has been growing evidence in recent years that in some cases bariatric - weight loss - surgery can be used as an effective treatment for obese adults who have been diagnosed with other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, and are considered clinically appropriate for treatment.
Weight loss surgery has not been provided within Northern Ireland’s health service, although a small number of patients have been funded for the treatment in Great Britain.
In appropriate cases, bariatric surgery can lead to significant weight loss and help improve, or even reverse, some obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.
However, it's a major operation which also requires significant long term lifestyle changes and will only be available to patients meeting specific criteria.
Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “Today’s announcement is a clear signal of intent from the Department.
“Establishing regional centres of excellence is a central pillar of our transformation programme for health and social care.
“Obesity is one of the most important public health issues facing Northern Ireland today. Being obese can reduce life expectancy by up to nine years and increase the risk of a range of health conditions including: heart disease and stroke; type 2 diabetes; some cancers, including postmenopausal breast cancer; mental health issues such as depression; and complications in pregnancy.
“There is also a significant financial impact for society, with the total estimated direct and indirect costs in Northern Ireland of overweight and obesity in 2015/16 estimated at around £457 million. This is a significant increase from the 2009/10 estimate of £268 million.”
The service planning group will include speciality clinicians and representatives of different HSC organisations. Its immediate task is to assess population need based on NICE guidance, develop a bariatric service specification, and examine the capability of the South West Acute Hospital to deliver the service.