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Obese NHS patients are being given a gastric weight loss balloon – but how does it work?

Data suggests patients can lose between 10 and 15 per cent of their body weight after 16 weeks thanks to the treatment

Jane Kirby
Wednesday 24 January 2024 05:25 GMT
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A new type of weight-loss pill is being given to NHS patients that contains a gastric balloon which is swallowed and then filled with water.

The treatment, which can be delivered in 15 minutes, is approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) and is designed to make people feel fuller, so they eat less.

Data suggests the device helps patients lose an average of 10 to 15 per cent of their body weight after 16 weeks.

Allurion, the company behind the pill, said it has been in talks with NHS trusts about rolling out the treatment since it was approved in 2020.

Now the first two NHS patients have been treated at Musgrove Park Hospital, part of Somerset NHS Foundation Trust. The pill differs from some other gastric balloons in that it requires no surgery, endoscopy or anaesthesia to place it.

A new type of weight-loss pill - a capsule that contains a gastric balloon filled with water - has been given to NHS patients for the first time (Allurion/PA Wire)

How does the gastric balloon work?

The balloon, tucked inside a capsule, is swallowed by the patient and filled with water through a thin tube during a 15-minute doctor’s visit.

After an X-ray confirms the correct placement in the stomach 550ml of water is put into the balloon. A second X-ray is then taken to check the balloon is full and sitting well in the stomach. The tube is then removed.

After around four months, a time-activated release valve automatically opens, allowing the water-filled balloon to empty and pass naturally through the gastrointestinal tract.

The balloon is filled with water once in the stomach (PA)

Data showed people managed to keep 95 per cent of the weight lost off for a year after treatment. A nutrition and lifestyle programme is provided by Allurion to help keep people on track.

A further three NHS patients are due to be treated in early February, with up to a dozen others also scheduled.

Professor Richard Welbourn, consultant bariatric surgeon at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are very pleased to be able to offer this new treatment, a first for the NHS, that offers clinically meaningful weight loss as part of a holistic programme involving dietary support and care.

“People with severe obesity are prone to diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, which can be reversed with weight loss.

“The Allurion balloon is a 15-minute outpatient procedure, and is swallowed, so there’s no need for an endoscopy, hospital bed, theatre time or anaesthetic, which is better for the NHS and a much-improved experience for our patients.

“We expect that patients using the programme will lose 10-15 per cent of their weight in four months, which improves quality of life and makes patients healthier.”

Dr Shantanu Gaur, founder and chief executive of Allurion, said: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the NHS for the first time to deliver the Allurion programme.

“We are looking forward to expanding this partnership and benefiting many more NHS patients in the months and years to come.”

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