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Doctors warn against obesity patient 'stigma' in post-pandemic health system

The Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism has warned that obesity patients need access to care in the weeks to come.

Image: Shutterstock/Montri Thipsorn

DOCTORS ARE WARNING against any ‘stigmatisation’ of patients with obesity as non-Covid-19 treatments start again. 

The Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism has said that patients with obesity – who are at a higher risk of complications from the virus – require equal access to the health system as new appointments become available. 

“Similar to most elective surgery, metabolic procedures have been postponed during the pandemic. However, due to the progressive nature of diabetes, delaying surgery can increase future health complications and even earlier death,” warned Dr Conor Woods, a consultant endocrinologist at Tallaght University Hospital. 

“The traditional ‘weight-centric’ criteria for patient prioritisation needs to change. For the period ahead, a new triaging approach for obesity and diabetes surgeries and treatments has been agreed internationally,” Woods said. 

The Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism is concerned that people with obesity have faced additional stigmatisation following speculation that they could be asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus. 

The society has recommended that patients be prioritised into three categories. The first would be surgery within 30 days for those with complications from previous metabolic surgery, while the second would be surgery within 90 days for those with “substantial risk” of diabetes complications or who have poor control of diabetes. 

The final category would be standard access for patients who are “unlikely to deteriorate within six months”. However, the society says that these patients still need to be “optimised using intensive medical treatment”.

As of Saturday night, 72 people with Covid-19 were in intensive care units in Irish hospitals – a figure that is 55% less than the recent peak of 160.

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Overall, 543 people with Covid-19 were in Irish hospitals on Saturday night, plus a further 196 suspected cases.

There have been some concerns that GPs could face a “tsunami” of non-Covid-19 illnesses in the weeks and months to come as the number of people being treated for the virus drops. 

A spokesperson for the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, Professor Carel le Roux, said that “Ireland’s public health system has the lowest funding per capita for obesity treatment in Europe”. 

Overcoming obesity stigma, he warned, would be crucial in the weeks to come. 

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