Obesity epidemic creates huge problems for Australian paramedics

Overweight people are creating a new wave of problems for Australian paramedics. Overweight patients have caused firefighters to be called to assist moving these patients when paramedics can’t lift them safely, or transport them without risk to themselves or the patient.

Melbourne firefighters were asked to help assist in the movement of patients on average two times a month to help paramedics move an overweight person or to pull patients from tight spaces such as toilets.

Due to the ever-increasing number of obese people in Australia, emergency services have had to update their equipment. Past research has revealed that furniture removal trucks have been used to help paramedics move large and heavy patients in the past.

Ambulance Victoria has been upgrading its fleet by testing out new hydraulic stretchers to transport chronically overweight patients. The service has also spent money on inflatable cushions and stair chairs. They also have an inflatable airbag for lifting morbidly obese patients off the floor, an air mattress to help manoeuvre heavy patients, a wheelchair capable of carrying a 295kg person and a double-sized seat to transport patients who must remain upright.

There have been 11 specifically designed ambulances in Victoria since 2007. They are referred to as “complex patient ambulance vehicles” an can cost some $200,000 and are capable of  transporting patients weighing up to 350kg. When asked about these vehicles, the general response from paramedics was “these are rarely available”.

As a results of the sparsity of these “complex patient ambulance vehicles”, the increasing demand for specialist ambulances meant it could take up to three hours for one of them to arrive at the scene of an accident.

One paramedic who wanted to remain anonymous, said that there were at least half a dozen times a year when, she and her partner would come across an obese patient who was just too heavy to move. On one occasion, three ambulance crews were needed to get a man weighing 200 kilograms into the vehicle.

The strain of shifting heavy patients represents a Work Health and Safety issue as was evident it the case of a paramedic who suffered long-term back issues because of the need to move overweight and awkward patients.

Steve McGhie, the secretary of the paramedics’ union, said 60 per cent of all injuries paramedics sustained on duty were musculoskeletal and that more obese patients were putting additional strain on first responders.

“There is no question that as patients get larger it makes it more difficult for paramedics,” he said.”The motorised stretchers will make a hell of a reduction because there will be less lifting from paramedics but they’re something that should have been brought into the industry many years ago.”

Two out of three Australian adults are overweight or obese

Two out of three Australian adults are overweight or obese, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

And Worksafe Australia stats indicate that over 13,000 health care professionals (which also includes doctors, nurses and social workers) made claims for almost $750 million in combined payouts for musculoskeletal injury when dealing with patients that were deemed obese or over their ideal weight.

In 2015, the Victorian state government also put $20 million towards upgrading ambulance vehicles and equipment to cope with the new obesity epidemic.

Links to additional reading on how paramedics deal with difficult and/or obese patients

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