Weight loss surgery booming in WA
Complications: Judy Stewart. Picture: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

Perth is becoming Australia's weight loss surgery capital, with 22 per cent of the nation's gastric surgery procedures done in WA, new figures show.

A leading medical lawyer has warned people considering lap-band or gastric sleeve surgery to be aware of the risks, after a surge in patients seeking legal advice because they suffered complications or were unhappy with the results.

Lawyer Karina Hafford from Slater and Gordon said many complaints related to gastric sleeves, which now make up about three-quarters of the 17,000 weight loss operations in Australia each year.

Unlike lap bands which are reversible, sleeves permanently reduce the size of the stomach by about 85 per cent, leaving behind a "sleeve" or narrow tube.

The popularity of weight loss surgery has been steadily rising in Australia, and high profile success stories include billionaire James Packer, who lost 35kg after his 2011 lap band, and Treasurer Joe Hockey, who shed more than 30kg of his 138kg after sleeve surgery in 2012.

Figures from the Medical Benefits Schedule shows 2294 gastric sleeves were done in the first quarter of this year, almost 500 of them in WA. In the same period, 1002 gastric bands were fitted, 216 of them in WA.

University of WA professor of surgical education Jeff Hamdorf said WA was "punching well above its weight", carrying out about half the number of operations done in NSW, which probably reflected the State's affluence.

He said local bariatric surgeons had low rates of complications and good results but many patients went into the procedure blase about the risks and with unrealistic goals.

"The sleeve is a very popular procedure, but people need to know it's a really big operation, and I'm astounded by people who casually say 'I'm just having a gastric sleeve'," he said.

"It's having 85 to 90 per cent of your stomach removed, which is why the weight loss is so stunning in the first few months."

Ms Hafford said she was representing several clients who had permanent injuries.

"These types of procedures can be effective weight loss methods but with so many people suffering complications and requiring revision surgery, it's actually a pretty risky procedure," she said.

Judy Stewart was 98kg and wanted to lose weight but she never expected her surgery would lead to complications that would almost kill her and cause her to plummet to 43kg.

A few years on and now weighing 55kg, the 63-year-old struggles to keep down even a few mouthfuls of water because she virtually has no stomach left.

"I can barely eat anything now and if I have even a mouthful of water it fills me up and I can't eat," she said. "I've gone down from a size 22 to size 8 but it has come at a huge cost, including depression."

The West Australian

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