Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Risks of weight loss surgery overseas

Public awareness campaign on risks of accessing weight loss surgery overseas is crucial

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q870 (Published 16 April 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q870
  1. Sala Abdalla, consultant general and upper GI surgeon
  1. London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, Harrow, UK
  1. salaabdalla{at}nhs.net

Patients need clearer warnings about the risks of having surgery abroad.1 Health tourism in weight loss and aesthetic surgery is happening with accelerating frequency. In the past few months I have had to manage several patients who had bariatric and aesthetic surgery abroad and returned with complications. I hear stories from patients about advertising that lures them to clinics with the promise of cheap, quick, and transformative surgery. The cost of flights and hotels are sometimes included in the package. Delving deeper, the same patients report frustration with NHS waiting times as a driving force behind their seeking treatment abroad. Some admit to wanting a quick fix for physical problems. What patients fail to understand is that the NHS’s tier based system for bariatric surgery is designed to assess suitability for a procedure that is life changing, and in some instances irreversible.

Follow-up after bariatric surgery is just as important as the surgery itself, yet many returning from having the operation abroad have had negligible follow-up beyond advice to report to their nearest emergency department if they develop problems. In the NHS, patients have their vitamin and mineral levels checked and supplemented after weight loss surgery. In my practice I have noticed that many patients who have had weight loss surgery abroad have nutritional deficiencies that further hamper their recovery from the complications they develop.

Health tourism related to weight loss surgery is putting patients at risk and adding to the burden on our overstretched NHS, both in the primary and secondary sectors. A public awareness campaign is needed. This should include adverts on television and social media warning of the risks of health tourism and what considerations to take when seeking elective weight loss and aesthetic surgery abroad.

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