We need to invest in saving lives

The cost, both personal and to the system long-term, of not providing access to bariatric surgery has again reared its head. It raises questions about equitable access to bariatric surgery across DHBs, and the need to ensure a level of national consistency.

Last year a study ranked New Zealand as the third most obese nation in the world with an obesity rate of 25.5 per cent.

Yesterday a group of obesity experts warned that this country’s hospitals will become overflowing with the chronically ill as a result of obesity related health problems if we don’t do something to address the issue.

The costs of obesity are exorbitant health costs alone are estimated at $500 million a year let alone the impact on individual and whanau lifestyle. A figure, which I believe, is very conservative.

The health issues associated with obesity include type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems and osteoarthritis.

If we don’t do anything about this issue the public will only pay more in healthcare in the long-run as we manage ongoing costs including organ failure, amputations and dialysis treatment.

I can tell you first hand that bariatric surgery is life-changing.

My decision to undertake gastric bypass surgery was a whanau decision, they were right by my side in every part of this decision. They had seen me suffering ill-health in association with type two diabetes and they wanted a better outlook for me and for them.

This operation has cured my diabetes, a disease that is the primary cause for about 4000 deaths in New Zealand every year. My blood pressure has gone and I now only get asthma when I have a cold. In my case there would be significant savings on my pharmaceutical costs alone without even factoring in the other health related savings.

I feel re-energised and best of all, I am looking forward to many more years of being around! Watch out Whanganui!

So when I looked at the situations of two women, one from Wellington and one from Whanganui, and read about the difficulties they were having in accessing bariatric surgery, I take a particular interest.

Although it is not a panacea to all issues, bariatric surgery produces predictable and sustained long-term weight loss; the improvement of most weight related illnesses such as hypertension or sleep apnoea, and a greatly improved quality of life.

I would really like to see it being a treatment of choice for morbidly obese patients. I will continue to battle for increased funding to address obesity and increase the number of publically funded bariatric surgeries, as I know first hand the benefits of investing in your health.

Decisions must be based on long-term savings as well as short term and maybe less bureaucracy and more access for patients would be a good start.

My greatest hope would be access to this life-changing surgery would be considered as a routine part of our response to diabetes treatment and management.

At the end of the day it’s about saving lives and surely that’s an investment the state and our families should support.