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Hospital gears up to cater for more heavyweight patients

Date

Peter Jean, Christopher Knaus

Judy Gosper, Director of Nursing, Operation Support, in a room for obese patients, which includes wide opening doors, wider chairs, a reinforced bed and a ceiling-mounted lifting unit.

Judy Gosper, Director of Nursing, Operation Support, in a room for obese patients, which includes wide opening doors, wider chairs, a reinforced bed and a ceiling-mounted lifting unit. Photo: Graham Tidy

Canberrans are becoming so hefty that recently installed chairs in the Canberra Hospital are designed to take particularly heavy loads.

The hospital is trying to tackle shortages of extra-strong or large beds, wheelchairs, sheets and patient gowns.

Equipment designed for obese patients is typically between 50 and 70 per cent more expensive than standard items. A standard wheelchair costs about $1500, compared to at least $2000 for a bariatric wheelchair. Two hospital patient rooms have large doors and beds capable of safely holding patients weighing up to 250kg. Judy Gosper, the hospital's Director of Nursing, Operation Support, says more of the rooms are needed.

''We've got people that are 230kg who cannot move themselves,'' Mrs Gosper says.

''We've got to ensure that doors are wide enough to get these bigger beds through, to ensure that bathroom doors are big enough to accommodate the commodes or the wheelchairs we're moving patients around in.''

Mrs Gosper is part of a new Canberra Hospital obesity network, made up of researchers, clinicians, policy makers and non-government organisations.

It will develop a coordinated approach to improving the health of children, adolescents and adults with obesity.

Mrs Gosper says maternity staff are particularly concerned about an increase in the number of women gaining large amounts of weight during pregnancy.

''We've really avoided talking enough about weight gain. The weight gain is so great for some ladies that it then increases the risk of morbidity associated with birthing - problems with birthing and problems with the baby as well,'' she says.

''Morbidly obese ladies have a higher incidence of stillbirth and we need to start addressing that problem because once you get obese parents you get obese children as well.''

''We need to bring it together so that we can look holistically and care and support them through changes of lifestyle, diet, exercise.''

More than 50 per cent of ACT adults are overweight or obese. Hospital record-keeping systems are being updated to help keep tabs on the number of patients who are overweight or obese.

Mrs Gosper said it was important that patients with weight problems were treated with dignity and respect so that they could maintain control of their own care and were assisted to improve their health.

Similar issues forced the ACT Ambulance Service to purchase a purpose-built ambulance in 2009, designed specifically for obese patients.

The vehicle features a self-loading, motorised stretcher, so that paramedics don't have to lift or push obese patients, an oversized wheelchair, and lots of extra space, to fit patients with excessive bulk into the back.

It has a capacity to hold patients with a weight load of 500kg.

Ambulance Service education manager Howard Wren said the ambulance is used roughly once a week, and is shared with the NSW Ambulance Service.

''It caters for weights of almost 500kg, and for people who are very, very much larger, including people who are very tall,'' Mr Wren said.

''It minimises the amount of actual physical lifting that a paramedic would have to do,'' he said.

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