As the UK starts to move towards the “New Normal”, we struggle to think what this will look like in reality and specifically what it will mean to people living with obesity. 

Many people who have already waited a considerable time for weight loss surgery have seen this put on hold because of the pandemic.  They now worry about when this life changing operation will be able to go ahead.  For many people this is resulting in an increase in their levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Yesterday The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), which speaks on behalf of American bariatric surgeons and weight loss specialists raised the concern that surgery for weight loss and its associated conditions was not being resumed at the same rate as other surgeries.   

They have stated that weight loss surgery has been classified as elective, meaning that the decision makers are classing the surgery as less important and not having any urgency.  This being because weight loss surgery is not considered as resolving an “urgent medical need”.

The result of this and similar decisions made in other countries, means these operations are being seriously delayed.  Even though they are considered to be the best, the longest lasting and the safest treatment for weight loss and its associated conditions. For some people, the difference between life and death.  Weight loss surgery is said to be as safe as having an appendix or gall bladder removed.  

The American association goes on to state that rather than taking the stance they have on weight loss surgery, the decision makers should consider the effect the surgery will have on the illnesses people living with obesity may have.  For example, scientific reports show that obesity is linked to more than 40 diseases such as: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, obstructive sleep apnoea, osteoarthritis and at least 13 different types of cancer that we know to.  Diseases which all have severe consequences, including the possible loss of life for the people they affect.  

In addition to the well-known diseases associated with obesity, there is now strong scientific evidence which links the severity of Covid 19 with obesity.  Not only are people living with obesity more likely to be severely affected by the disease, but the science shows us that the more obese a person is, the worse their symptoms and consequently, their recovery outcome will be. 

In this time when hospitals are reopening to the public and surgery is restarting, we need to see people being able to once again be admitted to hospital for weight loss surgery in line with their individual medical needs. Additionally, with most scientists predicting that Covid 19 will be a feature of our lives for some years to come, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that weight loss surgery is prioritised along with other surgeries which are non-emergencies.

 The longer people living with obesity have to wait for weight loss surgery, the greater their obesity will become. The consequences of this will mean the diseases that their obesity has caused or contributed to will get worse, they will be further physically debilitated, their mental wellbeing will decline and their quality of life will dissolve even further.

We believe world governments have a duty of care towards their citizens living with obesity to ensure that resumption of life enhancing surgical treatment is made urgently available in line with the needs of the individual.

We look forward to hearing the guidance the UK Government gives to the National Health Service in line with weight loss surgery.

Ann Vincent BSc (Hons) MBPsS

Ann is a graduate member of the British Psychological Society and also an Obesity Empowerment Network Champion and member of the Steering Group.

For further information on this subject please contact: enquiries@oen.org.uk