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Surgeons warn of the risk of low-cost weight loss operations carried out abroad

File photo of bariatric surgery being carried out on a patient whose weight couldn't be controlled by diet and nutrition.
File photo of bariatric surgery being carried out on a patient whose weight couldn't be controlled by diet and nutrition. / SUR
  • Because the cost is three or four times lower than in Malaga, patients are going to clinics abroad although there is no guarantee that the surgeons are trained in this type of surgery

As the saying goes, something cheap can turn out to be expensive. Unfortunately that is often the case for patients who undergo bariatric surgery for obesity in countries where such operations cost three or four times less than they would in a private hospital in Malaga, where the complete process is likely to range from 14,000 to 15,000 euros.

The problem is that bariatric surgery is complicated and should only be carried out by experienced surgeons who are authorised to carry out this type of operation. They also need to work as part of a multidisciplinary team so that they are able to immediately resolve any complications that may occur.

One of the reasons that morbidly obese patients go abroad for bariatric surgery is the long waiting list to have the operation on the health service in Malaga. The delay can be as long as six years, because these operations were not included in a decree which sets a maximum waiting time.

The situation has become even worse with the present coronavirus pandemic, because operations for obesity have been suspended for several months in health service hospitals in Andalucía.

Complications

While there is such a long wait here, there are clinics in Turkey offering to carry out these operations for 3,000 euros, and others in Lithuania for just over 6,000 euros, so some people decide to travel to these countries for surgery.

The problem is when complications arise and the patient has to stay in hospital longer than expected, because the hospital bill can then become much more expensive.

There can also be problems after the patient has returned home to Malaga and they have to be treated by the health service, or a private hospital if the patient can afford to pay for it.

"Surgery for obesity isn't something that any surgeon is able to do. It is a complicated operation and it requires a multidisciplinary team of professionals who carry out a complete study of each case before the surgery takes place. Health comes first.

"People need to be very careful in choosing where to have their operation, because their life is at stake," says César Ramírez, who is the head of General and Digestive Surgery at the Quirónsalud Málaga hospital.

Because these patients need complete care, they should be seen by endocrinologists, nutritionists, surgeons, psychologists, interventionist radiographers and intensive medicine practitioners, insists the head of the Gastroesophageal Surgery and Obesity Init at the Regional Hospital (formerly called the Carlos Haya), Javier Moreno.

He warns of the dangers of low-cost bariatric surgery abroad because of the risks associated with these operations, and says they need to be carried out in accredited and solvent hospitals.

"No patient needs to leave Malaga to undergo surgery for obesity, because in both the health service and the private sector there are highly-trained professionals and guarantees of quality," says César Ramírez.

He stresses that with these patients surgery is a last resort and should only take place if an endocrinologist recommends it.

It must be carried out with very safe technology, and he says the surgeon who carries out the operation should be the person who monitors the patient afterwards. This is often not the case when the surgery takes place in a private clinic abroad.

Bariatric or obesity surgery is the final solution for people whose weight is so excessive that it is causing different health problems. Once other slimming methods have failed, and after being seen by an endocrinology specialist, surgery is sometimes considered the best option for a sufficient weight loss.