The nightmare endured by Shannon Meenan-Browse should act as a warning to us all.

Very few of us are entirely comfortable in our own skin and, as such, an increasing number of people from Northern Ireland are travelling abroad for surgery – either because it isn’t available here or because it costs significantly less to have the operation done in a private clinic outside of the UK.

But what Shannon, a mum-of-four from the Creggan estate in Derry, went through for 18 months after a gastric sleeve operation in a hospital in Turkey is nothing short of barbaric.

Her devastated family has been left to pick up the pieces after she essentially starved to death as the aftermath of the surgery left her vomiting a dozen times a day.

Shannon’s husband, Don, has spoken to Local Women Magazine, describing in agonising detail the suffering the months endured by his beloved wife in the months leading up to her death – the latest devastating tragedy to hit the family.

“I don’t want any other family to go through what we’re going through,” he said.

Sadly, however, Shannon’s case is not isolated. As a health journalist for the past 20 years, I know that so-called health tourism is becoming an increasing issue of concern for doctors in Northern Ireland.

Yes, there are numerous examples of people travelling to Turkey for weight loss surgery who have had positive outcomes – but there are so many reasons why they should count themselves extremely lucky.

Gastric sleeve or gastric bypass surgery is major surgery. It is absolutely vital that it is carried out by a surgeon who is skilled and experienced. However, it is impossible to know beforehand when travelling to the likes of Turkey that the surgeon is capable of such radical surgery.

Surgeons in Northern Ireland are subject to strict regulation. There is also mechanisms in place to register where issues have arisen following an operation. This means any potential issues with a surgeon or hospital can be flagged sooner rather than later.

Shannon Meenan-Browse

However, when a patient has an operation abroad and suffers complications when they return home, this is generally not recorded by the hospital where the person was originally treated.

A patient may die as a direct result of a botched operation at a hospital in Turkey, but this will not be attributed to the hospital in any official capacity.

So, it’s all very well researching in depth before travelling, but it won’t actually provide a full picture of the safety of a particular hospital or surgeon.

Secondly, as I have already mentioned, weight loss surgery is major and complex. There are a number of tiers within weight loss services. Surgery is tier four – considered the most extreme option.

In the UK, anyone undergoing such surgery should generally first exhaust other services before they become eligible for the likes of gastric sleeve or gastric bypass surgery.

In Shannon’s case, this did not happen before she underwent her operation in Turkey. In fact, it isn’t clear whether she even had a body mass index (BMI) which would make her suitable for weight loss surgery.

Certainly, doctors here who deal with the aftermath of botched weight loss abroad have said they have patients who would never be deemed suitable to have the surgery in the UK as their BMI is too low.

Furthermore, Shannon underwent a gastric sleeve operation the day after she arrived in Turkey. This means she could not possibly have gone through the months of pre-op assessments and counselling required to ensure she can give informed consent or to ensure the surgery can be carried out safely.

In addition, anyone who undergoes such extreme surgery should be closely monitored for months afterwards. Here in the UK, this aftercare goes on for at least 18 months.

They are subject to regular reviews and receive ongoing support and advice from dieticians to ensure their bodies receive the required nutrients.

The problem is that weight loss surgery isn’t available in Northern Ireland. As such, there is no such structured post-surgical service available. Patients who return home from Turkey, sometimes without even a proper discharge letter, go to their GP for follow-up care but they can’t provide the required care.

Shannon’s family has said they feel she was abandoned by the health service as her condition deteriorated after she came back to Northern Ireland.

There are plans underway to introduce weight loss surgery in Northern Ireland, but the absence of an Assembly and the budgetary constraints means this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, even in spite of the harrowing experience of Shannon and her family, people from Northern Ireland will continue to travel abroad for weight loss surgery.

And that’s why, tragically, Shannon won’t be the last person from Northern Ireland who will lose their life in their quest to lose weight.

Our interview with Shannon’s heartbroken husband, in which he reveals why he is so proud of his wife, is available in September’s magazine, available to buy in the shops or to download from the website.