A surgeon has spoken of the risks of having weight loss operations abroad after a young woman died following a procedure in Turkey.
Ahmed Ahmed, a consultant bariatric surgeon and council member for the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told Sky News that while weight loss surgery in the UK carries “extremely small risks of complications”, other countries may not have the same “rigorous” safeguards in place.
Dr Ahmed spoke out after Morgan Ribeiro, 20, died after travelling to Turkey for a gastric sleeve operation.
Ms Ribeiro died on 13 January at 4am due to “surgical complications and sepsis”, a fundraising page set up to pay for her funeral said.
She was described on the page, launched by her aunt Sophia Silva, as a “beautiful bright light” who was “loved and adored by many”.
“Her great sense of humour, caring nature and bubbly personality made her so unique,” Ms Silva added.
Ms Ribeiro became seriously ill on the flight back home, according to reports, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Serbia, where she was taken to hospital.
Dr Ahmed said weight loss surgery in the UK was “very safe” but it must be done to a “high standard with the correct equipment”.
“That may not always be possible in other countries,” he warned.
Some medical centres abroad may take “shortcuts” to provide lower-cost procedures, he said, while pre- and post-operative care might not measure up to what is offered in the UK.
“If we look at the bigger picture, weight loss surgery is actually quite a complex surgery, it’s not an undertaking where you can surf the net, find a package, buy your ticket and go there. It requires a lot more attention to detail,” Dr Ahmed said.
“Patients need to be closely monitored by their hospitals with routine appointments a week, three months, six months, then once a year every year.
“Obviously if you are having surgery abroad, you just don’t get that kind of follow-up.
“I don’t think many foreign units provide the follow-up patients require,” Dr Ahmed said, adding there are a “whole mixture” of things missing when people undergo procedures abroad.
Healthcare tourism driven by long NHS waiting lists
Around 3.6 million people in the UK would meet the criteria to undergo weight loss surgery, Dr Ahmed said, but just 4,000-5,000 people have the procedure annually.
“The reason why people go abroad is they have to wait very, very long to get this kind of surgery in this country.
“Obviously this surgery is available in the private sector in this country, but costs are high.
“It is significantly cheaper to go to another country to get this sort of surgery and that’s why I think there is this issue of healthcare tourism where people cannot wait for the surgery here on the NHS, and it’s too expensive for them to get the surgery privately, hence why they are forced to go abroad.”
‘Do your research first’
Anyone who chooses to go for surgery abroad should do their research first, Dr Ahmed said.
Patients should spend time and effort studying the surgeon and the unit, ask how many cases they have done and what the complication rates are.
“Perhaps more importantly, I would really recommend that you find other people who have been to the same clinic and surgeon and ask them directly what was their experience like,” he added.
Ms Ribeiro’s mother, Erin Gibson, said she struggled with her weight from a young age and had been taunted by bullies.
Speaking to The Independent, Ms Gibson said: “I told her she was beautiful inside and out.”
She added: “I never ever want this to happen to another daughter.
“I don’t want her life to be in vain.”