Big patients lead to new stretcher

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has invented an automated patient loading system because more and more West Australians have been too big to load on to their stretchers and lift on to planes.

Medical director Stephen Langford said the redesign was prompted by the increasing number of overweight patients in WA.

In 2012-13, the RFDS WA transported 60 people who weighed between 150kg and 240kg, many of whom had to be harnessed to the floor of the plane.

Just seven years earlier, there were only 24 patients weighing more than 150kg.

Dr Langford said the new bariatric transport system would protect staff and give patients a more comfortable and dignified ride.

"When I first started with RFDS 30 years ago, we would move one person over 150kg every couple of years. It was extremely rare," Dr Langford said.

"Towards the late 1990s it started to become a couple of cases a year. Now there's more than one patient a week who's over 150kg. We've had some cases where the patients were just too heavy for us to get them in the plane."

The RFDS WA engaged engineering firm WorleyParsons and several interstate aeronautical companies to design the bariatric system, which can carry patients as heavy as 300kg.

Dr Langford said hospital, ambulance and RFDS staff would no longer have to do the heavy lifting.

"The electric stretcher goes up and down at the push of the button and we've also developed a special lifting device to lift it up into the aircraft," he said.

"It's like a business-class stretcher. It's extra-wide, extra-long, extra padded and extra comfortable."

He said patients often required the RFDS because they were too heavy for country hospitals.

"All health services are being challenged by our ever expanding population and I'm not talking about the number of people," he said. "It's a huge cultural and public health issue."

The West Australian

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