Warning as investigation finds at least seven British patients have died after weight loss surgery in Turkey
Seven British patients have died since 2019 after receiving weight loss surgery in Turkey, an investigation has found.
Weight loss treatments are available on the NHS, but a combination of lengthy waiting lists and costly private healthcare has pushed some patients to seek procedures abroad.
The most common types of weight loss surgery include a gastric band, gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy, working to increase weight loss as the stomach becomes fuller quicker. This is achieved either through the placement of a band, the joining of the top part of the stomach to the small intestine, or through the removal of part of the stomach.
In the UK, these treatments can typically cost between £9,500 and £15,000 through private providers. In Turkey, prices are considerably cheaper, costing as little as £2,000 in some cases.
25-year-old Joe Thornley is one of seven British patients to have died after receiving one of these treatments in Turkey. Travelling to Istanbul for treatment, his parents were told Mr Thornley suffered a cardiac arrest. However, the post-mortem later ruled that his death was caused by internal bleeding.
“The so-called surgeon rang me and said he had a cardiac arrest and he couldn’t save him. I believed him”, 58-year-old Julie Thornley, Mr Thornley’s mother, told The Mirror.
“But when we had his body back the post-mortem found he had bled at the site of the operation. He died of internal bleeding”, she added, urging that these weight loss procedures are “not worth it.”
The NHS guidelines state that weight loss surgery is only offered for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 and over, or a BMI of between 35 and 40 paired with an obesity-related condition that could improve if the weight is lost. These conditions include type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
The guidelines also stipulate that those eligible must have tried all other methods for weight loss, and in the event of receiving the surgery, must agree to attend regular checks and make appropriate lifestyle changes.
Weight loss surgery doesn’t come without risks. Patients can be left with excess folds of skin, gallstones or blood clots in the leg, and might struggle to obtain enough vitamins and minerals from their diet.
A gastric band can also slip out of place, allowing food to leak from the passage between the stomach and small intestine or causing a blockage or narrowing in the gut.
45-year-old Pinky Jolley travelled to Turkey in November 2022 for a gastric sleeve operation after raising over £2,000 via a GoFundMe. Afterwards, she was left fighting for her life.
Following a two-hour operation, Ms Jolley experienced intense abdominal pain, vomiting and dehydration. She returned to the UK four days later and was recommended for an immediate visit to the hospital, where doctors found that she had suffered a serious leak which had turned into an infection.
Surgeons at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital then “jet-washed” the inside of Ms Jolley’s stomach. Battling sepsis, she remained on the ward until March 2023, left unable to eat solid foods.
More broadly, the Foreign Office reports that, since January 2019, at least 22 British citizens have died following trips to Turkey for medical procedures, advising against so-called “medical tourism” on account of varying facilities and treatments from country to country.
“British nationals considering undertaking medical treatment in Turkey should carry out their own research”, the UK Foreign Office states, advising against using “private companies that have a financial interest in arranging your medical treatment abroad.”