'More surgeons are needed for fat reduction ops'
NATIONAL experts in weight-loss treatment are calling for dozens more North Staffordshire patients to receive gastric bypass operations on the NHS – despite attempts to cut back on the procedures.
They are recommending that the number of fat-reduction operations at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire should increase from 85 to more than 150 every year.
The national bariatric surgery peer review team – made up of specialists from established units in Leeds, Halifax, and Nottingham – also suggests increasing the number of surgeons from one to three.
Their report states: "In theory, there is a catchment population of 800,000 but the University Hospital needs commitment to funding activity from commissioners so its service can develop.
"In the medium term the bariatric team should have three surgeons supporting the delivery of 150-plus cases a year.
"We recommend that hospital representatives meet local commissioners to consider the realistic prospects of expanding the volume of cases operated on at the University Hospital."
But the recommendations conflict with new criteria being brought in by North Staffordshire's two primary care trusts (PCTs) to decide who is sick enough to be put forward for the stomach bypass procedures.
It is feared the tighter rules will result in dozens of people with life-threatening obesity being denied the surgery.
In the meantime, the University Hospital continues to treat people from as far afield as Cumbria and Wolverhampton, who have been funded by their own PCTs.
Most patients undergoing the surgery spend just two nights in hospital and any post-operative complications are lower than at other hospitals in Britain. The operation allows patients to conquer the main obesity-related conditions, including diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, chest illness, arthritis, depression and even cancer.
The University Hospital service was started by surgeon, Chandra Cheruvu, in 2006.
He had previously worked at a hospital in Leeds and was impressed by how diabetes could be cured simply through a stomach bypass. He then spent nine months commuting to Liverpool every day to learn the craft and later visited a hospital in Melbourne, Australia, to perfect the keyhole technique.
The service has been running for four years and NHS Stoke-on-Trent funded 50 operations last year.
But NHS North Staffordshire – which covers Newcastle borough and the Moorlands – had tighter restrictions and paid for just 30 cases. The other five of the 85 cases covered patients living in South Staffordshire
Mr Cheruvu said: "Obesity is growing at such a rate that it is the biggest health problem in the western world.
"It can cause 40 different illnesses which can all be fatal. With bariatric surgery we can demonstrate that all these illnesses are needless among this group of patients.
"In fact weight-loss surgery is the most powerful therapy in medicine today.
"Our results have been excellent and we have been peer reviewed as being as good as the best centres in Europe. That is down to the great support from the hospital and the work of our team."
He added: "When I first see my patients, they have been living in abject misery for years. They are scared, lacking in confidence and often at death's door.
"Then after the operation they come back for a follow-up visit and are transformed into people who feel they can take on the world."
The 12-strong bariatric team includes diabetes physicians, diet experts, anaesthetists and psychologists.
Several patients who do qualify for funding have been rejected at pre-operation clinics because they should use lifestyle changes to lose weight instead of surgery.
The age of patients having the surgery has ranged from 19 to 69, with most of them women.
The heaviest patient has been 44-year-old Adrian Broadhurst, of Weston Coyney, who underwent the procedure three years ago.
But specialist equipment is in place at the University Hospital to handle people weightin up to a staggering 80 stone.
It includes bigger operating tables and beds, longer instruments to get through thick layers of fat around the stomach and even a hoist using hovercraft technology to move patients on a cushion of air.
Father-of-two Mr Cheruvu added: "Nowhere is this service needed more than in Stoke-on-Trent which is one of the fattest cities in the UK.
"While most people a few stones overweight can lose it through diet and exercise, my patients are way beyond that solution.
"They are not greedy people but have become how they are through a mixture of complex social, psychological and emotional factors.
"They are referred for bariatric surgery as a last resort to save their lives after all else has failed."