Page last updated at 01:34 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Fire crews moving obese patients

Fire engine
Firefigters are regularly called out to help lift obese people

Fire crews in England have received at least 1,780 calls to help move obese patients in the last five years, 75% of them from the NHS, figures show.

The Conservatives obtained figures from 37 out of 44 fire authorities under a freedom of information request.

Shadow health minister Mike Penning, an ex-firefighter, said it showed the "strain" emergency services were under.

Essex had the most calls (390), but its chief said it had a duty to help people who were often in severe distress.

The Tories found that among the fire services that responded to its information request, there had been 1,784 calls asking for assistance in moving an obese person.

I cannot imagine for a minute that anyone would suggest that we leave people lying on the floor, stuck in their baths or in bed upstairs because of their size
David Johnson, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service

David Johnson, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer, said: "We are responding to people often with a life risk, a threat to their health and nearly always in severe distress.

"We cannot legislate for the number of calls we receive. This is an indication of a wider social issue.

"I cannot imagine for a minute that anyone would suggest that we leave people lying on the floor, stuck in their baths or in bed upstairs because of their size."

But he added: "As a fire service, we cannot tackle the root of the problem of growing obesity, that's a much wider social issue."


Among the calls received by fire services were ones to help move the body of a deceased person, or people who had had heart attacks.

They were also regularly called on to help move obese people stuck in the bath or upstairs in their house.

In one case, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service was called on to move an obese patient from one hospital bed to another.

Staffordshire 30 stone woman who had been lying on the floor all day
Lincolnshire Rope system used to move woman from first floor to ground floor, then into ambulance
Cambridgeshire Male fallen out of bed
Oxfordshire Man removed via window which then had to be refitted
Kent Helped move 25 stone woman stuck in the bath

Most fire services did not charge for call outs, but some said they imposed "discretionary" charges.

Mr Penning, said: "As a former firefighter, I am concerned at these figures.

"They show the severe strain that the growing obesity epidemic is putting our emergency services under."

Liz Kendall, director of the Ambulance Service Network, said figures from last year for England showed ambulance services responded to an average of just over 113,000 call-outs a week.

"Just as the stereotype in days gone by was of fire crews rescuing cats up trees, thinking our emergency services are now spending their whole time being called to lift obese people out of their homes is equally untrue.

"Obesity is a serious issue requiring serious analysis and policy. The big challenge is tackling the root causes and consequences of obesity such as heart disease and diabetes. Politicians, the NHS and industry need to work together to address it."

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: "I am not all surprised by this research - it is indeed horrific.

"This is a total misuse of the fire service - it is preventing firefighters from doing what they should be doing, which is putting out fires. "

A Department of Health spokesman said: "For the individuals concerned, obesity is a condition which brings with it many illnesses and health problems, and what people need is good and timely help, whether it is from the GP, the hospital or the community nurse."

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