Staffordshire firefighters used to winch obese patients into ambulances
FIREFIGHTERS have been called out almost 50 times this year to help paramedics lift or winch obese patients into ambulances.
Specialist lifting equipment carried on Staffordshire’s fire engines – often used to shift wreckage at road accidents – is being used to help ambulance crews haul fat people out of their homes.
West Midlands Ambulance Service has been forced to spend £360,000 on four ‘fat ambulances’ which can support the weight of patients weighing up to 40 stone.
But figures obtained by The Sentinel show paramedics are increasingly being calling on by their 999 colleagues for help lifting patients when it is considered unsafe for them to attempt it alone.
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Firefighters are now being given extra training to cope with demand.
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service attended 54 so-called ‘bariatric assists’ between 2007 and 2010.
But it has been called out to assist the ambulance service with overweight patients 48 times so far this year.
Specialist equipment included in the ‘fat ambulances’ includes a gantry, a mega-stretcher, mobile hoists and an air-cushion lifting system.
Head of emergency response at the fire service, Bob Dagless said: “Our policy regarding bariatric patients is that we will only send a crew of firefighters to assist if the patient is in a life threatening or critical condition.
“If a doctor or ambulance crew has requested our services but the patient is not in a life threatening or critical condition, we will send a fire officer to review the case.
“We are in the process of rolling out training to all of our crews in conjunction with West Midlands Ambulance Service. The training will cover the manual handling techniques required to use the bariatric equipment that specialist ambulances carry.”
Both the fire and ambulance service confirmed there has been no specific change in policy contributing to the sharp increase in incidents.
But increasing obesity levels and increasing concerns over both paramedic and patient safety have contributed to the rise.
Figures indicate that up to half of all the 249,000 population in Stoke-on-Trent never exercise and 30 per cent are obese.
Some official estimates suggest it costs the emergency services a combined total of £2,800 every time they are called out to a ‘bariatric assist’.
In Staffordshire, the fire service charges £278.50 for the first hour a fire engine is sent out and then there is a fee per 15 minutes after that.
A spokesman for West Midlands Ambulance Service said: “The service has invested significant sums on creating an ability to provide good clinical care to bariatric patients in a dignified manner.
“All vehicles within the service fleet have a bariatric capability but these new vehicles carry specialist equipment.
“The vehicles are strategically placed throughout the region to ensure that there is a facility available around the clock for such cases.
“There are occasions when the fire service is requested to attend incidents where safe access to and exit from premises is deemed problematic. In such cases, we work together to ensure patient safety is not compromised.”