FIREFIGHTERS have told ambulance bosses they will not attend incidents involving very obese patients unless their condition is life-threatening.
The new policy has been put in place because of the rise in incidents where they have been called in help to transport very heavy patients due to undergo weight-loss surgery because they are a problem to move.
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has also told the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) it could be invoiced to cover the cost of calls where its crews are asked to deal with non life-threatening situations.
Until recently, the service has routinely answered requests for assistance from ambulance staff when they have struggled to move large patients, but has changed its rules following the rise, which included one call-out where three firefighters were left injured with muscle strains.
In 2009, the service was called out nine times where they needed to help move overweight patients. But that ballooned to 16 in 2010, 24 in 2011 and up until September this year they have answered 24 requests.
Alan Kernohan, area manager for the fire service, said: “If you spoke to other fire services in the region they would tell you that it is becoming an increasing problem.
“Our partners are also having to look at providing additional equipment and training.”
The North East Ambulance Service has two specially-adapted vehicles to deal with obese patients.
A spokesman for NEAS said: “We have a good working relationship with County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, and will continue to work closely with them on helping bariatric patients who require our combined assistance.”