Australia: People dying waiting for obesity surgery, doctors say, amid calls for greater public access - PressFrom - Australia

AustraliaPeople dying waiting for obesity surgery, doctors say, amid calls for greater public access

02:26  12 july  2019
02:26  12 july  2019 Source:

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People dying waiting for obesity surgery, doctors say, amid calls for greater public access© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Portrait of Calum Sanderson says lap-band surgery has turned his life around. (ABC News: Brian Tegg)

For years Calum Sanderson struggled to leave the house as he battled morbid obesity that felt "unbeatable".

At his heaviest, the 28-year-old weighed 210 kilograms.

"It's been completely debilitating, it's affected my mental state, it's affected my whole life," Mr Sanderson, who lives in Port Huon in Tasmania's south, said.

"At the worst I'd need to sit down after walking for a few minutes, I'd have to sit down to do the dishes."

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When Mr Sanderson did venture out, he suffered crippling anxiety to the point he feared even going to check the mail.

"I've had a waterbomb thrown at me, there's been the insults, the stares, people looking down their nose at me," he said.

"Unfortunately I've been led to believe I'm lesser than dirt pretty much."

In May this year, he had publicly funded lap-band surgery.

He said it had been "life changing".

"Already my mobility has improved immensely," he said.

"I'm able to walk and actually each day extend the walks with my dog, and that's the best start I could ask for."

'Seeing Calum suffer has been heartbreaking'

Accessing the surgery involved a three-year wait, during which Mr Sanderson's concerned father Tim wrote to then-Tasmanian health minister Michael Ferguson.

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"He [Calum] was knocked back because he was deemed not sick enough, he is required to develop diabetes in order to be accepted which was an incredibly bizarre position to be put in so I challenged that," Tim Sanderson said.

"Seeing Calum suffer has been heartbreaking, there are things that he has wanted to do but has not been able to do, he has suffered out in public.

"Obesity I think is quite savage … one of the things about people who are obese is they appear to be invisible, our society's not geared for fat people finding seats strong enough, clothes big enough to fit in."

People dying waiting, advocates say

The Australian and New Zealand Metabolic and Obesity Surgery Society [ANZMOSS] is lobbying the Federal Government to improve access to public bariatric surgery, saying it would save both lives and money.

"There are certainly people dying from obesity who are unable to access publicly funded surgery," the society's Dr Ahmad Aly said.

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Most of the time, surgery for obesity is not recommended in children. It may sometimes be considered in exceptional cases in children who have been through puberty and who are seriously obese . Children and young people being considered for surgery need very thorough assessments by a specialist team.

People who are obese are at a much higher risk for serious medical conditions such as high blood Obesity occurs when your body consumes more calories than it burns. In the past, many people Environmental and behavioural factors have a greater influence – consuming excess calories from

"Access is severely limited particularly in proportion to disease prevalence."

Hobart-based bariatric surgeon Stephen Wilkinson estimates 20 to 30 obese Tasmanians were dying each year waiting for surgery.

He said there had been a reduction in publicly funded lap banding at the Royal Hobart Hospital and the eligibility criteria, including being aged under 40 and having diabetes, was too strict.

"We used to be allocated 20 lap band surgeries a year, but now we wouldn't do anywhere near that — maybe 5 or 6 a year — because of more urgent cases and pressures at the Royal," Dr Wilkinson said.

"It is a frustrating and an effective denial of the reality of a severe community health problem."

A lap band operation costs about $12,000.

Dr Wilkinson said while the procedure was not suitable for everyone, it had transformed many of his patient's lives.

"They're able to play with their kids and grandchildren, often high blood pressure and diabetes disappear and they're able to engage socially and back with employment," he said.

Tasmanians getting bigger

According to Tasmania's latest State of Public Health report, 60 per cent of adults are overweight or obese and 70 per cent do not do enough exercise.

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Dr . Kahan said another doctor had sent one of his patients to a zoo for a scan. She was so humiliated that she declined requests for an interview. Yet for many fat people , the questions about appropriate medical care are beside the point because they stay away from doctors .

Patient Access . Obesity is the medical term for being very overweight. If you are obese or overweight, this means that you are carrying excess body fat. For people who are overweight, or obese (Grade I), waist circumference is taken into account with BMI when assessing health risk.

Obesity researcher Alison Venn from the Menzies Research Institute estimates more than 20,000 Tasmanians would be eligible for bariatric surgery.

"Clearly it would not be possible for the health system to fund everyone who might choose or be eligible for bariatric surgery because the numbers are so great, but certainly there's a strong case for funding more that's available," Professor Venn said.

"Wider society has created an environment where obesity is becoming more and more common and wider society is paying the price.

"I don't think we can escape it by putting it all back to individuals and saying they should just get on a diet and stick to it."

A Tasmanian Health Service [THS] spokesperson said the THS was not in a position to determine whether a patient's cause of death was directly related to obesity or other co-existing conditions.

The spokesman said elective surgery priorities were determined by clinical leaders and as of this month there were 19 patients on the Royal's lap-banding waiting list, with an average wait of six months.

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