Many obesity units are refusing obesity surgery for patients on the grounds of cost, a survey has shown.
The study found that hospitals and primary care trusts have seen a 650% rise in referrals for surgery from doctors over the past five years.
Six out of 10 consultants approached at 20 hospital trusts across England said they were not sufficiently resourced to cope with the huge rise in demand.
The survey of 20 specialist obesity units was carried out by Pulse magazine. Half (52%) of consultants said their units were forced to bounce referrals back to GPs after refusing surgery for patients.
The study also found that one in five trusts capped the number of referrals they allowed obesity specialists to see due to financial constraints.
Dr David Haslam, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum and a Hertfordshire GP, told Pulse he believed the move was a “completely false economy”.
He added: “To limit it on the grounds of cost is disgraceful. Some PCTs refuse altogether while others take 10 or 20 procedures and no more. People will be dropping down dead because of it.”
Professor John Baxter, president of the British Obesity Surgery Society, said provision in Wales, where he worked at the Morriston Hospital in Swansea, was “among the worst in the country”. He added: “To say there’s underfunding is a massive understatement. It’s appalling. There should be a public inquiry in my view.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “In our recent obesity strategy we announced increased funding over the next three years to support the commissioning of more weight management services in the NHS, where people can access personalised services to support them in achieving real and sustained weight loss.
“It is up to PCTs as local commissioners and providers of services to determine the most appropriate methods to deliver health care to their populations, based on clinical need and effectiveness, and following medical advice. There is an increased risk of complications during bariatric surgery, given that there are existing medical conditions in obese patients so operations are not always the best option.”