If you happen to live in Stoke-on-Trent there’s a one in ten chance that you’re ‘badly overweight’ according to The Sentinel. Should your sheer size start to impact upon your well-being, then your local health trust have ensured that there’s a contingency plan in place to zip you off to the nearest hospital where you’ll have keyhole surgery to choke your stomach in order to dramatically reduce its capacity and – effectively – prevent you from eating yourself to death. But there’s trouble brewing in Staffordshire as candidates for this surgery in Newcastle-Under-Lyme and the Moorlands are having to travel to Walsall for a more invasive surgery rather than being referred to nearby Stoke.
Somewhere in here there’s an argument about everyone being entitled to the same treatment, but this would be the wrong angle to take on a story that is, indeed, very worrying. It's more important to address whether we, as taxpayers, should be shelling out for this treatment at all and giving these very overweight people an easy-out and a licence to abdicate all responsibility for their own health.
There was a time when a careful diet and some regular exercise would’ve been prescribed to the ten people who’ve already undergone the surgery at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, but now there’s a queue for the sort of intervention that results in an immediate and aggressive weight loss, with the body shedding as much as a stone per-month without the patient having to exercise any will-power at all. Can the fact that this weight loss surgery puts an end to the other various obesity-related-diseases really justify spending thousands of pounds of public money on this supposed panacea? And do obese people in Newcastle and the Staffordshire Moorlands really have a right to be enraged about having to travel to Walsall for a free operation to cure a largely self-inflicted disease?
After all, single mother of three Amanda Griffiths was a dress size 32 and had a BMI of 50 when she was referred for surgery, and with no mention of diabetes or any other illnesses causing her to hit such a colossal weight, we can only assume that her size was a medical problem of her own making. The Sentinel doesn’t actually reveal what this lady weighed, but to put her size into perspective, the NHS says that the threshold for a healthy BMI starts at around 25, so Amanda managed to hit 30…and then 40, and still continued on a path of destruction for which the rest of us will ultimately pick up the bill.
And it isn’t just the cost of the operation itself. These people are occupying the precious time of surgeons – some of the most crucial and over-worked health professionals the NHS employs – and to some extent undermining training (and the cost of training) these medics whose ultimate function should be to save the lives of those who are sick, wounded and disabled through no fault of their own. Of course, there are cases, like that of the soldier awaiting treatment, where there’s some underlying cause behind such tremendous weight gain, but too often the we’re being relied upon to pick up the pieces for some else’s excess.
This surgery was only made available on the NHS relatively recently, and patients would have to cough-up around £8,000 to be treated privately. There are many instances of people being so deterred by this price-tag that they were motivated into losing weight the old-fashioned way, and improving their fitness to boot. The pride and the satisfaction this must bring has now been plucked out of the hands of the overweight, as the government opens it’s wallet to throw our money at a short-term solution.
Of course there's a wider context too, and as Amanda proclaims that ‘It’s wrong people are being denied ops’ she inadvertently hits the nail on the head. The Stoke-on-Trent public health director states that no less than twenty per-cent of their annual budget is diverted away from other patients to treat obesity. With waiting lists for operations, limited supplies of important drugs, a lack of beds and a constant need for new equipment, its difficult to justify this huge expenditure or, for that matter, sympathise with these people any more than we might with heroin addicts.
We could all kick back, over indulge and rely upon the NHS to save our lives once it comes to the crunch, but most of us accept that our health is our own responsibility and take steps to ensure we don’t become a public liability. Those that don’t – like Amanda – are often surprisingly unapologetic for their actions, and feel that it is not a privilege, but a right to have costly surgery completely free of charge, courtesy of the taxpayer.
"A fifth of the total budget is a huge sum so it would make more sense to give more surgical procedures to obese people.
"If you tackle that underlying condition, then reductions in the other diseases will follow."
And so to follow-on, we should all just accept that we’ll have a nation of people, a significant proportion of whom will be walking around with a rubber band inside them restricting their food intake? This is like using abortion as a contraceptive.
Amanda is right again though, the underlying condition does have to be treated, but this condition isn’t being overweight, it’s actually the very mentality that allows these people to think that no matter how they abuse their health, the state will rectify the mess they create completely gratis. It’s an attitude born of so many years of big, intrusive government and it’s only by taking the safety net of operations like these away that individuals will start to take responsibility for their own lives.