Increase in obesity levels costs NHS millions to adapt equipment

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The increase in obesity levels is forcing NHS expenditure on wider corridors, reinforced beds and larger mortuary fridges to increase by millions.

Hospitals have spent as assessed £5.5m over the last three years.

The assessed amount has prompted concern about the cost of dealing with the obesity epidemic in the UK. Campaigners are describing the increased financial burden as ‘unsustainable’.

According to statistics, about 25% of adults in the UK are classified as obese, with a further 40% classed as overweight. This is the second highest rate within Europe.

The financial burden on the NHS is not set to disappear soon as the obesity rates continue to rise.

Information which has been provided by hospital trusts across England and Wales have indicated that health bosses have asked for corridors to be widened and operating theatre doors to be reinforced to cope with larger, heavier patients.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn has had to pay £30000 for a storage fridge large enough for the dead bodies of obese patients. Yeovil District Hospital NHS Trust has had to pay £15000 for a bariatric body cooling system to cool the bodies of obese patients who are unable to fit into mortuary fridges.

In total, the figures that have become available indicate that the NHS has spent £2m on bariatric equipment and adjustments during the past 12 months. Around £1.68m was spent during the previous 12 months.

The NHS is already spending about £5.1bn per year for the treatment of illnesses related to obesity. Attempts to deal with this problem have led to unusual clinical decisions being made. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence recently advised doctors to refer obese patients to classes at Weight Watchers.

According to the National Obesity Forum’s Tam Fry the costs are likely to continue increasing. He stated that the obesity problem is not being resolved and people are becoming fatter. He added that the situation has reached a point where so many things have to be strengthened and widened, including walkways to beds, wheelchairs, operating tables and hoists. It also includes mortuaries, crematoriums and ambulances.

Mr Fry is of the opinion that costs will continue to climb. He said that the main problem is that what was considered ‘big’ 20 years ago is now considered to be normal.

A Director of Action on Sugar, Dr Aseem Malhotra, said that inaction is not an option any longer. Diets should become a part of health policy and the root cause of the issue, the food environment, should be tackled, or the NHS will be crippled by the costs involved.

A spokesman for NHS England has stated that it does not offer comment on the spending decisions made by clinical commissioning groups and individual trusts.

Image Credit: Sean McMenemy

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