MORE people should be given costly weight-loss surgery to save the NHS money in the long run, Oxford experts have said.

It comes as new Oxfordshire figures show requests for the procedures have nearly tripled in four years, but the number of people approved has stayed roughly the same.

The operations include gastric bands and bypasses, which work by limiting the amount of food a person can eat.

In the past year, 92 people have pitched to health chiefs for the procedures, which can cost up to £14,000 a time.

In 2007, that figure was just 36.

In total over the past four years, 58 people have been approved for surgery.

NHS Oxfordshire, the county’s primary care trust, said although requests had increased, the number of people given the treatment had stayed roughly the same.

But last night, a John Radcliffe Hospital surgeon said he thought more people should be given the surgery on the NHS as it could actually save the country money.

The cost of caring for people with illnesses associated with being fat, such as diabetes, heart conditions and high blood pressure, is expected to top £159m by 2015.

Bob Marshall, a bariatric surgeon at the JR, said the procedures could eliminate some of these problems in less obese patients rapidly.

He said: “It’s an intervention that’s been shown to work.

“There’s a cost saving long-term, so despite the fact that an operation may cost several thousand pounds, for a patient that’s diabetic, in the long-term you will save a significant amount of money.”

Costs for gastric bypass operations can vary between £8,000 and £14,000. Gastric banding is less expensive, at between £5,000 and £7,000.

A gastric bypass works by permanently removing a section of the stomach, making it smaller.

Gastric bands section off a part of the stomach and can be tightened or loosened to allow less or more food.

A healthy person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 19 and 25 per cent body fat. Overweight is 25 to 30 and more than 30 is obese.

Health watchdog Nice, which sets national guidelines for health trusts, believes people with a BMI of more than 40 should automatically be referred for weight-loss surgery.

It is estimated about half of Oxfordshire’s 635,500 population is overweight or obese – with five per cent morbidly obese, meaning they have a BMI above 40.

But last night, NHS Oxfordshire said it would only pay for surgery for people with a BMI of more than 50 and who also had a serious illness, such as diabetes.

Didcot mother-of-three Michelle Seymour, 44, had a gastric band fitted in 2008 when she weighed 16 stone.

At 5ft tall and with a BMI of 44, she was not eligible for surgery on the NHS and so decided to pay about £9,000 for the procedure privately with company Healthier Weight.

She has since shrunk from a size 22 to a size 10 to 12 and weighs 11 stone.

She said: “I decided to pay for it privately, but I think after talking to my consultant I know how much of a benefit to people with other illnesses these procedures can be.

“I had a few problems with my band and had to have another one fitted.

“But I would do it all again.

“I feel so healthy and happy now.”