Custom ambulances needed to handle oversized patients

OVERSIZED ambulances designed specifically to handle the extra weight of overweight and obese patients could be rolled out throughout the state as the waistline of Queenslanders expands.

From mid-2009, Queensland Ambulance Service introduced three "Specialised Transport Retrieval Units" - worth more than $1 million in total - as part of an effort to deal with problems that arose when transporting the very heavy.

These STRUs can lift up to 500kg, come with powered stretches, loading platforms and include "hover jacks", a thin mat that lifts a patient as it inflates.

They operate in Townsville, Brisbane and Beenleigh although there is no plans from QAS to purchase more for the fleet, a spokesman said the service was constantly under review.

Although designed for "bariatric patients", the trucks are used as part of the general fleet, answering 5978 urgent calls between 2011 and 2013.

QAS has no figure on how many of these were required specifically for overweight or obese patients.

The need for these vehicles highlights a growing problem for Queensland health providers, particularly the government, as the state grows increasingly obese. In 2011, Queensland Health found 22.9% of adults were obese, 34.5% were now overweight.

The lack of an STRU in an area does not mean heavier patients go without - QAS does not consider a patient's size when answering emergency calls.

"In a situation where a bariatric patient is critically ill or injured, and a specialist vehicle is not available, ambulance crews do not delay transportation of the patient to the hospital," a spokesman said.

"The QAS has a number of contingency plans in place to allow the transportation of these patients."

Earlier this week, a former paramedic claimed they were injured while attempting to move a person weighing 120kg.

It is understood that Queensland paramedics are given specific Workplace Health and Safety training on how best to manoeuvre patients safely, regardless of their size.

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