Super-sized ambulances to cope with obese patients

Janelle Miles

November 05, 2008 11:00pm

THE Queensland Government is purchasing super-sized ambulances with hydraulic lifts to cope with an increasing number of obese patients.

Queensland Ambulance Service medical director Stephen Rashford confirmed the move yesterday, saying it was necessary to be able to transport extremely obese patients safely as well as to "protect staff".

Two of the ambulances are expected to be operational in Brisbane, and one in Townsville, by the end of the financial year.

Each vehicle costs about $200,000, double the price of ambulances already in use.

Paramedics have welcomed the decision, saying the obesity epidemic has resulted in some cases having to be transported on the backs of utes.

Ambulance union state organiser Jason Dutton said having mega-sized vehicles fitted with lifts was an important workplace health and safety issue for officers.

"We have ambos hurting themselves all the time because of lifting," he said.

Queensland Health also has recently purchased two hydraulic lifts, capable of handling weights of up to 500kg, for its Coopers Plains morgue, on Brisbane's southside, where the incidence of extremely obese bodies has been on the rise.

Coping with the obesity epidemic is putting an increasing burden on an already strained health system.

In April, an RAAF Hercules had to be flown from Sydney to Mount Isa to transport a 258kg patient to Townsville for an operation estimated to have cost $250,000.

Careflight doctor Stefan Mazur, who was involved in the case, said difficult medical retrievals for super-sized patients were likely to become more frequent.

"We are getting patients quite regularly who are 180kg," he said.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Chris Davis called on governments to invest more in preventative healthcare.

Dr Davis said overweight people were at increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and even dementia.