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Somerset consultant surgeon receives rare honorary university position

A SOMERSET consultant surgeon, based at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, has been recognised by his peers for the incredible work he’s done in the specialty of bariatric surgery. 

Professor Richard Welbourn has been appointed as Honorary Associate Professor in Surgery at the University of Bristol; a decision made by senior colleagues across the world who work in his field. 

Richard said: “I’m thrilled to bits with this new position, which I’ll have in addition to my role as a surgeon at the trust.

“It’s even more humbling for me as the University of Bristol team doesn’t give out many honorary positions, so this is a really rare feat. 

“I first became interested in bariatric surgery in 2002 when the first round of National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness (NICE) guidance came out – it felt a groundbreaking moment. 

“I attended an international meeting of surgeons who were involved in laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery when it was in its infancy, and one of the topics covered included using this method for bariatric surgery, something I didn’t know much about at that time. 

“Seeing videos of these type of operations being performed for the first time was really inspiring and I felt it was the real beginning of a revolution for bariatric surgery. 

“Despite some misconceptions, bariatric surgery isn’t just about making people thin, it’s actually about making people well by reducing their weight and improving their quality of life. For example, the surgery can help a person’s diabetes and other weight-related diseases to go into remission.” 

Inspired by what he saw at the conference, Richard played a huge role in bringing this type of surgery to Musgrove Park Hospital, where he performed the first ever gastric bypass via keyhole surgery at the hospital in 2004. 

“At that time, I was a one-person team, but we now have five surgeons at the trust able to perform this operation,” Richard added. 

“Our efforts in Somerset led to us being the first NHS trust in the UK to be accredited as an International Center of Excellence by the US Surgical Review Corporation, a non-profit, patient safety organisation that develops and administers best-in-class accreditation programmes for medical professionals, surgeons, hospitals and outpatient departments throughout the world. 

“This meant we were very much the leading NHS trust in the UK for bariatric surgery – a huge honour for us. We’ve continued to be reaccredited by the corporation ever since, and are still the only trust in the UK to have this.” 

Over the last 20 years surgeons at Musgrove Park Hospital have operated on several thousand patients, and Richard instigated, together with the University of Bristol, a world-leading study called the By-Band-Sleeve study, which is where his relationship with the University of Bristol began. 

Richard continued: “We ran the By-Band-Sleeve study to assess the level of weight loss and quality of life for three different bariatric operations – the gastric bypass, gastric sleeve and gastric band – to try to work out which is the best operation to use in the NHS. 

“To run a 12-centre study like this is incredible and it’s really a tribute to everyone who has taken time to be involved. 

“I’m confident that the results of the study will change clinical practice in this country, and perhaps even the world. 

“In Somerset we recruited over 200 patients to the study, and my appointment by the University of Bristol is very much a recognition of all the hard work done over the years by everyone who’s been involved in the study in Somerset, which made us a leader in the country. 

“We’ve also been one of the trend setters for postgraduate fellows wanting to learn bariatric surgery and become consultants in this specialty, which is great news for Somerset. 

“In fact, since 2007 we’ve had a Royal College of Surgeons accredited surgical fellowship for final-year trainees, many of whom have gone on to become consultants across the country, including at Musgrove Park Hospital. 

“It’s great that we have such strong links with organisations such as the University of Bristol, as academic institutes have such vast research expertise, which can only be a good thing for us as we continue to look at bringing high-profile research projects to the NHS in Somerset.” 

Jane Blazeby, Professor of Surgery at the University of Bristol, added: “It’s been a pleasure working with Richard over the past 15 years. 

“His leadership, academic insights and hard work has ensured that the NIHR By-Band-Sleeve study and other projects have been successfully completed. 

“He has made enormous contributions to metabolic and bariatric surgery to benefit people living with severe obesity.” 

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