More than 500 people are currently on the waiting list for gallbladder removal surgery in the Western Trust area, the Journal can reveal.
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that at present, a total of 506 patients are on the waiting list across Derry and the wider Trust area.
A total of 247 people meanwhile had their gallbladders removed during the year to the end of March 2016.
Of these, 108 were aged between 41 and 60, and a further 71 people were aged between 21 and 40. A total of 61 patients aged from 61 to 80. There were seven young people aged 20 or under who have had their gallbladders removed.
Another 13 people have undergone other operations relating to the gallbladder over the same period.
A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust said it could not provide information on the length of time people are having to wait for surgery.
She said: “The average waiting time in weeks for this procedure is not a reliable indicator of how long a patient will wait for gallbladder surgery because average waiting times will vary from Consultant to Consultant and depend on the number of urgent cancer patients waiting on the list at any particular time.”
She elaborated that surgeons who perform the operations are general surgeons, but added that across the north “it is recognised there is a demand/ capacity gap in General Surgery”.
“The Trust has to prioritise cancer or other urgent patients which may delay operating on those with gallbladder problems,” she said.
Speaking about the reasons why someone will need their gallbladder removed, the Trust spokeswoman said family history/ genetics, diet, lifestyle, or other health issues can each play a part.
Gallstones are hard masses that form in the gallbladder and are a common problem, and one which can cause severe, recurring pain for those affected.
The Trust spokeswoman said: “The risk of developing gallstones increases as you get older and if you eat a diet rich in fat.
“Having surgery to remove the gallbladder will prevent the serious complications that gallstones can cause.”
The complications resulting from gallstones can include an obstruction, infection or inflammation of the common bile duct, as well as inflammation or infection of the gallbladder itself, a condition known as acute cholecystitis.
Severe infections may result in a patient developing gallbladder abscess, while in some cases an inflamed gallbladder can tear, leading to peritonitis, which involves the inner lining of the abdomen becoming inflamed.