NHS waiting times driving patients to seek weight-loss help in Turkey, says surgeon | Health

Desperate patients are seeking risky weight-loss treatments in Turkey amid unacceptable NHS waiting times, a surgeon says.

Ahmed Ahmed, consultant bariatric surgeon at Imperial College Medical Trust and treasurer of the British Society for Obesity and Metabolic Surgery, said there had been a significant increase in patients experiencing complications after surgery abroad.

“There is definitely an increase in the number of people going abroad for surgery and undergoing bariatric surgery in Turkey,” he said. “Since Covid and the growing waiting lists on the NHS, people are being forced to go abroad for treatment. People shouldn't be going abroad.”

European health officials are advising EU citizens not to travel to Turkey for “weight loss” Botox injections following 67 cases of botulism linked to private clinics in Istanbul and Izmir in the past three weeks, sparking outrage worry.

An alert from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said some patients had been admitted to intensive care. None of the cases highlighted are in the UK, where the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the UK government regulator, has not received any reports of botulism associated with weight loss treatments.

Stomach Botox injections, commonly called gastric Botox injections, are advertised as a way to relax the stomach muscles with the goal of reducing appetite and aiding in weight loss. The treatment is offered as a cheap, less invasive alternative to stomach surgery, but Ahmed said it is unlikely to be effective.

“There isn't any evidence that gastric Botox injections are completely effective,” he said, adding that gastric Botox is not offered on the NHS for this reason. “Anyone who practices evidence-based medicine doesn't do that.”

Ahmed said he was aware of patients who had sought surgery abroad and subsequently required NHS treatment due to serious complications.

“I work at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, and someone took the Heathrow Express straight to my emergency department after surgery in Turkey,” he said.

“I've seen people be told they were having one surgery, but when we investigated, they had another. I've seen internal leaks or narrowing, connections that weren't done properly.

“I'm not saying all bariatric surgery in Turkey is bad, but I can tell you that I've seen higher than expected complication rates in people who have been flown abroad for surgery.”

At least 22 British citizens have died while on medical tourism to Turkey, with several open cases involving bariatric surgery, according to the Foreign Office.

Dawn Knight, a patient safety campaigner and trustee of the United Council of Cosmetic Practitioners, said some clinics were aggressively marketed in the UK, offering treatments ranging from hair restoration to dental procedures, gastric sleeves and liposuction.

“These clinics are preying on very vulnerable people by offering fast access. But the stakes are much higher than seeing a GP at home,” she said. “There are huge risks in flying after surgery such as bariatric surgery, but some clinics advise you to come out, have the surgery and fly home within a few days.”

Marc Pacifico, Chairman of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), said: “As with any drug or injectable product, it is vital that the source, safety record and ingredients are checked and regulated. The risk of injecting an unknown product can lead to serious medical harm, And have short-term and long-term consequences.

“BAAPS strongly urges anyone considering injectable therapy to ensure they see a reputable clinician who uses a product that is both CE marked, MHRA approved and, if prescribed, also available on the UK National Formulary .”

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