Bariatric surgery tourism in the COVID-19 era

Mark O McCarron, Neil Black, Peter McCarron, Dior McWilliams, Jacqueline Cartmill, Ahmed M Marzouk, Alexander D Miras, Angela M Loftus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic primary and secondary health care services in Northern Ireland have observed an increase in the number of patients who have had bariatric surgery outside of the UK. This study sought to estimate the frequency of bariatric surgery tourism and to audit indications, blood monitoring and medical complications.

Methods: All primary care centres within the Western Health Social Care Trust (WHSCT) were invited to document the number of patients undergoing bariatric surgery between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2022. For one primary care centre, patients who underwent bariatric surgery were assessed against the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guideline indications for bariatric surgery. In addition, the blood monitoring of these patients was audited against the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society (BOMSS) guidelines for up to two years following surgery. Medical contacts for surgical complications of bariatric surgery were recorded.

Results: Thirty-five of 47 (74.5%) GP surgeries replied to the survey, representing 239,961 patients among 325,126 registrations (73.8%). In the six year study period 463 patients had reported having bariatric surgery to their GP. Women were more likely to have had bariatric surgery than men (85.1% versus 14.9%). There was a marked increase in the number of patients undergoing bariatric surgery with each year of the study (p<0.0001 chi square for trend). Twenty-one of 47 patients (44.7%) evaluated in one primary care centre fulfilled NICE criteria for bariatric surgery. The level of three-month monitoring ranged from 23% (for vitamin D) to 89% (electrolytes), but decreased at two years to 9% (vitamin D) and 64% (electrolytes and liver function tests). Surgical complication prevalence from wound infections was 19% (9 of 44). Antidepressant medications were prescribed for 23 of 47 patients (48.9%).

Conclusions: The WHSCT has experienced a growing population of patients availing of bariatric surgery outside of the National Health Service. In view of this and the projected increase in obesity prevalence, a specialist obesity management service is urgently required in Northern Ireland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-11
Number of pages6
JournalThe Ulster Medical Journal
Issue number1
Early online date3 May 2024
Publication statusPublished online - 3 May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2024 Ulster Medical Society.


  • Humans
  • Medical Tourism - statistics & numerical data
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Bariatric surgery
  • COVID-19 - epidemiology
  • Male
  • Northern Ireland - epidemiology
  • Bariatric Surgery - statistics & numerical data
  • Adult
  • Postoperative Complications - epidemiology
  • Female
  • Middle Aged
  • Socioeconomic deprivation


Dive into the research topics of 'Bariatric surgery tourism in the COVID-19 era'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this