Ambulance fleets across the country are being revamped with wider stretchers and lifting gear to cope with the increasing number of fat patients, it was reported today.

Every ambulance service in the UK has started buying the specialist equipment, according to data obtained by the BBC from freedom of information requests.



Standard ambulances are being stocked with heavy-duty wheelchairs, stretchers and lifting cushions.



But many services have also bought "bariatric" ambulances, costing up to £90,000 each, to ferry the most obese.



The specialist ambulances are equipped with double-width trolley stretchers to accommodate patients weighing up to 50 stone (318lb) and also tend to include hoists and inflatable lifting cushions.



Cushions cost about £2,500 and stretchers between £7,000 to £10,000 while reinforcing an ambulance tail-lift costs about £800 per vehicle, the BBC said.



South Central ambulance trust has spent more than £1 million in the last three years to upgrade nearly two thirds of its 180-strong fleet, it was reported.



West Midlands has also bought four specialist bariatric ambulances at a combined cost of more than £300,000.



Jo Webber, director of the Ambulance Service Network, said ambulance bosses had been left with no option.



She told the BBC: "The fact is patients are getting larger and larger and ambulances need to be able to respond immediately to what could be life-threatening situations.



"Every service is having to invest money in this. It shows that some of the lifestyle changes we are seeing have a range of costs. It is not just about treating them, but the infrastructure costs as well."



Every ambulance trust in England, as well as the services in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland confirmed changes were being made although the pace of the approach varied, according to the data.



While the West Midlands, Yorkshire, the North West and Wales already have pools of bariatric ambulances, until recently in London ambulance bosses were paying a £5,000 monthly fee to a private service.



They have now bought two bariatric ambulances with a third on its way, while the rest of the fleet will also be equipped with specialist gear in the coming years.

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