An ambulance service has spent £400,000 on three vehicles designed to transport obese patients weighing up to 50 stones.
The bariatric ambulances and specialist equipment, which will be based at Worthing Ambulance Station in West Sussex, and Paddock Wood in Chertsey, Surrey, will come into service at the end of next month, a spokesman for the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) said.
Figures released by the NHS Information Centre today show a dramatic rise in the number of hospital admissions for obesity over the past decade.
Admissions have risen from 1,054 in 2000/01 to 11,574 in 2010/11, with admissions for women almost three times higher than men, according to the report.
The Mercedes DMA ambulances have been specially adapted for obese patients' needs, the SECAmb spokesman said.
He said the vehicles also helped to reduce the risk of paramedics injuring themselves while moving larger patients, and included a wider tail lift and a stretcher which can turn 360 degrees, as well as storage for the patient's own wheelchair.
The ambulances are also equipped with specialist manual handling aids, a gantry and mobile hoists, threshold ramps, enhanced air cushion lifting equipment and a stair climber chair, the spokesman added.
Justin Wand, SECAmb's head of fleet, said: "The new vehicles and equipment will provide the Trust with a specialist ability to care for these patients who have specific needs."
In 2009, 70-stone Paul Mason was transported 150 miles from his home in Ipswich, Suffolk, to Chichester, West Sussex, in a specially adapted bariatric ambulance for specialist life-saving treatment.
Suffolk Primary Care Trust considered a number of travel options for Mr Mason, who was classed as "super-obese", including airlifting him to hospital.