Revealed: Life on Sunderland’s obesity ward

Terry Gardner, 29, walking through the Sunderland weight-loss ward.
Terry Gardner, 29, walking through the Sunderland weight-loss ward.
Have your say

SUNDERLAND’S crippling obesity problem is being put under the spotlight on national TV tonight.

Documentary makers will examine one of the UK’s first dedicated weight loss wards at Sunderland Royal Hospital after Wearside was dubbed one of the fattest places in the country.

Last year four surgeons performed more than 600 operations on the ward to try and help clinically obese patients as the city’s weight problem spirals out of control.

More than 40 per cent of adults in the city are overweight – including Terry Gardner, 29, who at 47 stone is too big to wash himself at home or even fit through his bathroom door.

The Weight Loss Ward documentary follows the dad-of-two’s progress as he is admitted to the hospital for an indefinite stay, costing the NHS £250 a day, to be put on a controlled diet, with a view to surgery if he can lose some initial weight.

The ward, which treats patients with extreme surgery, such as gastric bands, sleeves and balloons to reduce stomach size, has been launched in a bid to tackle the obesity epidemic and its related illnesses which are expected to cost the NHS £50billion each year by 2050.

Too heavy for a reinforced ward bed, Terry, who has been housebound for a year, is one of the largest patients the unit has ever treated and it has been forced to hire him another bed at the cost of £150 a day.

Peter Small, a consultant surgeon at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: “There is no medical problem that is causing people to be obese. The vast majority of people are obese because their calorie intake over time has not matched their calorie burn.

“The usual patient we get has been trying all the diets under the sun and all the medicines under the sun and they’ve failed. And they’re just crying for their life back.”

It’s believed that the Sunderland ward will pave the way for more units to open across the country.

Patient Terry admits that he was a lot slimmer when he married 10 years ago.

“At the moment I feel like my weight’s just eating my life. If I don’t do anything now I just feel like I’m not going to be here,” he says in the show.

Until she went to the ward, 47-year-old Debra Adams, weighed 26 stone.

Wheelchair-bound and suffering from raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, her husband Colin had become her carer.

During the course of the documentary she shed four stone to prove her commitment to making permanent changes to her diet. After undergoing gastric sleeve surgery, which reduced her stomach by seven-eighths, Debra’s diabetes improved rapidly and she is now able to walk unaided with just a walking stick.

She said: “It’s unbelievable. I just never, ever thought I would get down to this weight again.”

Mr Small added: “If we get the right people, 98 per cent who go for surgery will succeed.”

The NHS is already suffering under the strain of the high cost of medication for obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Mr Small said: “Gastric surgery costs about £8000. If we get them (the patients) off the medicines, we recover the cost of the operation in less than two years.”

A spokesman for Sunderland Royal Hospital said: “We are delighted that some of our patients’ stories feature in tonight’s ITV programme.  

“They are really tales of hope and redemption and how they have changed their lives with the help of the NHS and our service.

“We are very proud of our team and the service we offer, and that we are able to meet the challenge of the obesity epidemic by helping give people back their lives.”

Twitter: @sunechokaty