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Addressing the Obesity Crisis: The Urgency for Accessible and Timely Healthcare Services

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Zara Nwosu
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Addressing the Obesity Crisis: The Urgency for Accessible and Timely Healthcare Services

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The escalating obesity crisis has become a prevailing health concern in many parts of the world. Health services are strained, and hundreds of individuals currently find themselves on waiting lists for obesity treatment. The long waiting times underscore a significant demand for obesity treatment and the necessity for an improved healthcare infrastructure to meet this demand. But beyond the numbers, these waiting lists tell a story of desperation, risk, and the urgent need for change.

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The Irish Scenario: A Waiting Game

Irish patients seeking treatment for obesity are faced with prolonged waiting lists, with some even having to wait up to five years for medical management. The lack of funding has led to a backlog of patients and stalled plans for new clinics and surgical units due to Health Service Executive (HSE) budget constraints and a recruitment freeze. This situation has driven many patients to seek treatment abroad, such as in Turkey, despite the risks and horror stories involving Irish patients.

The Irish Coalition for People living with Obesity has expressed concerns about these long waiting times and advises patients to join the waiting list to illustrate the true demand for help. They also warn about the risks of seeking surgery abroad and emphasize the need for long-term support for obesity, considering it a chronic relapsing disease.

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Risky Alternatives

Long waiting lists for obesity healthcare in Ireland are pushing patients towards risky treatments abroad, such as gastric sleeve surgeries. These treatments are often expensive and carry high-risk factors. Dr. Donal O’Shea, National Clinical Lead for Obesity, described this trend as a significant problem.

However, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The health service has only recently started to take obesity seriously as a condition, with proper funding announced in December 2022. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced funding for an Obesity Policy and Implementation Plan in Budget 2022.

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UK’s Struggle: The Leeds Scenario

In Leeds, UK, the Tier 3 Weight Management service, planned to treat 250 people annually, has a waitlist of over 660 people. The service is unable to take new referrals and is being guided to other sources of support. The Integrated Care Board is concerned about the cost of new drugs and additional funding for the service. Planned improvements include digital treatments, mental health support, and a review of the referral criteria.

Physicians’ Take: A Conservative Approach?

While there is a surge in prescribing GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic for weight loss, some physicians remain skeptical due to potential risks. Concerns include aspiration due to delayed gastric emptying and the need to follow guidelines for perioperative management. Insurance authorization for GLP-1s for obesity without diabetes is also a challenge, leading some physicians to advocate for regular exercise and dietary management as better alternatives.

There's no denying that the obesity crisis is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. It's clear that a robust and accessible healthcare infrastructure is necessary to tackle this public health emergency. The time for waiting is over; the time for action is now.

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