Family of weight-loss op victim call for sales ban

The family of a woman who died after her aorta artery was pierced twice during weight-loss surgery in Turkey have called on UK hotel chains to stop hosting "clinics" and sales days.

Shannon Bowe, from Denny near Falkirk, died on 2 April last year after suffering catastrophic blood loss.

The 28-year-old, who worked in sales, had travelled to Istanbul for gastric sleeve surgery.

Her relatives were told that there had been a medical problem and immediately flew to Turkey, however Shannon’s injuries were unsurvivable. She died the day after her operation.

Shannon's family say she was trying to lose weight so she could start a family with her partner.

They have backed calls from their local MP, John McNally, who says well-known hotel chains like Hilton, Holiday Inn, Maldron and Clayton are “lending credibility” to Turkish companies, despite a rising number of fatalities.

In the past five years, 28 British people have died in Turkey after travelling there for elective medical procedures.

Turkish companies host marketing events at UK hotels. Customers seeking surgeries such as weight-loss operations, cosmetic surgery and dental treatments can meet with surgeons and sales representatives.

The trips are often described as "surgery holidays’"

In sales tactics which have been criticised by a leading bariatric surgeon, people can receive discounts for booking multiple operations or booking on the day.

Falkirk MP John McNally described the sales days as “predatory” and said they “exploit the vulnerable”.

Ekol Hospitals sales day
Ekol Hospitals hold "sales days" in hotels across the country [BBC]
Ekol Hospitals sales day
Ekol Hospitals hold "sales days" in hotels across the country [BBC]

In their first public statement since Shannon’s death, her family and partner said: “Shannon was a wonderful individual who lit up the lives of all who knew her in her short life.

"She was so loved by her family. She was bright, witty, elegant and caring and all she wanted to do was to start a family of her own.

“We wish to express our unreserved support for the campaign which seeks to end the practice of hotels and other commercial premises hosting promotional events for cut-price surgery abroad.

“We would plead for the immediate cessation of the promotion of such events for commercial gain and to spare families the hurt, distress and emotional trauma we have suffered since Shannon’s avoidable early death."

The family added: “Shannon’s mother, a medical professional, was only allowed to see her unconscious daughter for a matter of minutes before she was locked out of the intensive care unit with no information on how matters were developing.

“Shannon died needlessly as the result of a botched procedure in Turkey in April 2023. She was but one of the victims. Please don’t let her life be in vain.”

'Patient told to eat, eat, eat'

Surgery in countries like Turkey costs a fraction of the price of private surgery in the UK and can be booked within weeks – in contrast to weight-loss surgery on the NHS, which has waiting lists of up to four years in some areas.

A recent BBC investigation found that a Turkish surgeon at a hotel sales days in Glasgow accepted patients for surgery who did not meet the UK or international criteria for surgery.

A surgeon for Ekol Hospitals was filmed in a Hilton hotel advising an undercover journalist to “eat, eat, eat” ahead of the operation.

She had claimed to have a weight that would put her in the overweight category, but which was still too low to meet medical guidelines for bariatric surgery.

In reality, the journalist’s weight was in the healthy range. She was never weighed.

Ekol Hospitals said it denies suggestions that "hospitals accept patients for surgeries who do not meet international guidelines”.

It added that patients are given a “full and extensive health check” at the hospital.

Shannon Bowe did not have surgery with Ekol Hospitals.

MP John McNally
MP John McNally described Shannon Bowe's death as an absolute tragedy [BBC]

MP John McNally said: “I want to ask these hotels to look seriously at what they're associating themselves with.

"They should stop these predators – hooded crows masquerading as peacocks – from using well-respected brands, thereby lending credibility to these organisations.

“Increasingly young people are being tempted by cut-price treatments promising ideal looks, body shape and a week or two in the sun.

"It all sounds easy but it has led to tragic outcomes from corrective surgery at great expense to the NHS and loss of life to some of our much-loved constituents."

He added: “Shannon was my constituent and our families know each other. It’s an absolute tragedy.

"Her family and the community have been left devastated by her loss. The loss of a young life is awful, and the worst thing is it’s all avoidable.

“Shannon is not an isolated case. There has been a dramatic rise in unscrupulous individuals seeking to make money and exploit the vulnerable.

“I urge anyone considering a medical procedure abroad to research the standards and qualifications that apply in the country they are travelling to before making a commitment. It’s a decision that could save your life.”

A recent study of London hospitals showed that people who go abroad for weight-loss surgery, and then need urgent medical care back in the UK, cost the NHS more than it costs to carry out the operation itself.

BBC News contacted Holiday Inn, Hilton, Leonardo and Dalata Hotels, which owns Maldron and Clayton hotels. They all declined to comment.

A sales representative for Ekol Hospitals said: “It is unfortunate that our health care, NHS or private, is unable to cope with the obesity epidemic in our country. Ideally every person would have access to the health care they need but that is not the case."