OBESE Wearsiders cost the NHS £4.6million in weight-loss surgery in just 12 months, according to new figures.
The amount spent on operations such as gastric bands and bypasses at Sunderland Royal Hospital soared from £1.7million in 2008/09.
Growing demand for the surgery has led to the hospital carrying out 600 procedures last year, compared to 373 in 2010.
Les Boobis, City Hospitals Sunderland medical director, said: “It’s quite complicated because our trust was chosen to develop that surgery in the North East.
“We’ve seen that expanded to meet the demand. We’ve developed a skilled team who are working to meet the demand, but there are more people viable for the surgery.”
The cost of the weight-loss surgery – £4.6million in 2010/11, £3.6million in 2009/10 and £1.7million in 2008/09 – was revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request.
The team of four weight-loss specialist surgeons at Sunderland Royal perform operations such as gastric bands, gastric balloons, gastric bypass and gastroplasty surgery.
Mr Boobis said that Sunderland was not alone in its high levels of obesity-related surgery.
“The North East and many industrial parts of Britain have high obesity rates,” he said.
The latest Health Survey for England in 2009 shows that 61.3 per cent of adults and 28.3 per cent of children, aged two to 10, were overweight or obese.
Mr Boobis said that acting now with weight-loss surgery will save money in treating weight-related health problems in the long term.
“We know there is good evidence that surgery is the better option than leaving it untreated and costs less money in the long run,” he said.
“Problems like diabetes, cancer, heart disease are all reduced after surgery.
“Seventy to 80 per cent of people who have successful intervention surgery, their diabetes no longer is a problem.”
Before surgery is carried out, patients must demonstrate they can lose weight and are committed to changing their lifestyle.
Mr Boobis added: “It’s not the first choice of action. Assessments must be carried out to make sure that it is the appropriate thing for that patient.”
Peter Small, a consultant general surgeon who performs weight-loss surgery, said the hospital had carried out 2,000 procedures since the year 2000.
“It’s not something that we have gone out and advertised,” he said.
“When you have one successful patient, you get more referrals coming through.
“The number of people who are obese is on the increase and people are becoming more aware of the conditions that come with obesity.”
To cater for heavier patients, City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Trust spent £34,780 on five reinforced beds, and rents another four.
It has also had to provide trolleys, chairs and toilets capable of holding the very obese.
DARREN Jardin says his gastric bypass surgery saved his life.
THE 44-year-old, from Red House, was tipping the scales at a dangerous 31 stone. He says the operation in 2008 was a last resort for him.
His excessive weight was causing sleep apnoea – a condition where breathing stops during sleep – joint problems and diabetes.
Darren, a steward for Red House Working Men’s Club, said: “It saved my life. I think without it I would have been dead.
“There’s lots of people out there who lose the weight naturally but I tried everything and it did not work for me.”
Darren now weighs 15½st and has seen his waist measurement shrink from 66 to 36 inches.
Speaking about the increase in weight-loss surgery in Sunderland, Darren said it depends on the person.
“I can only speak for myself. I can’t speak about anyone else,” he said. “People have different metabolisms, different lifestyles, everyone is different.”
But he is in no doubt that weight loss surgery was the right move for him.
“I’ve got a wife and two kids and for me it was definitely a positive thing. It has changed my life and saved it,” he said.