Thousands spent on Suffolk firefighters rescuing obese people

Firefighters are called to help rescue obese patients Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Firefighters are called to help rescue obese patients Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Thousands of pounds have been spent on firefighters helping to move obese people in Suffolk over five years.

Figures from the Home Office show Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service attended 69 callouts for bariatric assistance – helping ambulance crews to move overweight patients – between April 2012 and March 2017.

While they represent a small portion of the brigade’s 4,000 non-fire incidents, the majority of callouts took more than one hour to resolve. Of those, 10 incidents were more than four hours long.

Firefighters carry lifting equipment and special slings to transport people, and can remove windows, walls and banisters.

Freedom of information requests to some fire and rescue services have shown the average cost of a callout is £400. For some non-emergency cases, services have been able to recover costs since legislation was put in place in 2004.

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Bariatric assistance callouts have become more common in recent years, with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service recording 25 incidents in 2016/17. In 2012/13, there were just eight.

Across England, fire and rescue services attended 851 bariatric assistance cases in 2016/17 – a 98% increase on five years previously.

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A spokesman for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said these 69 incidents represented less than 0.01% of the 27,000 calls it attended over the five-year period.

He added: “We continue to work closely with our colleagues in the ambulance service to provide the best possible service for Suffolk residents, and helping out vulnerable patients, including those who are bariatric, is an important part of that partnership working.”

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said the trust had a duty to ensure to it had the resources required to help all patients.

He added: “A lot of time is dedicated in our service to how we can improve patient experience for groups of people with all kinds of accessibility needs, allowing us to be as responsive and patient-driven as we can be.”

Unison’s national ambulance officer, Alan Lofthouse, said judgement on whether bariatric assistance was required was made by crews on a case-by-case basis.

He said: “Obesity can be a real issue for ambulance staff trying to help critically ill patients.

“Ambulance equipment has a safe working load, and pushing the limit puts patients and staff at risk.

“In an emergency a paramedic has to make a judgment call on how best to help an obese patient, and in some instances this means calling for assistance from other services.”

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, which aims to raise awareness of obesity in the country, called the data “truly shocking”.

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