Hospitals are to use zoo mri machines to scan obese people

Obesity crisis ‘will force hospitals to use super-size MRI scanners at zoos’

NHS hospitals will have to use scanners from zoos because they are unable to cope with severely overweight patients, surgeons have predicted.

By Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent
10:00PM GMT 01 Nov 2012

Many hospitals have failed to invest in ‘supersize’ equipment suited to morbidly obese patients, they said.

Investigations by surgeons at North Bristol NHS Trust found only one in six hospitals had access to MRI or CT scanners capable of taking the heaviest patients, weighing over 35 stone.

As an emergency measure, they will need to rely on scanners usually operated by vets as Britain’s obesity crisis means dealing with severely overweight patients becomes more routine.

Hospitals in the US are already calling zoos to use their scanners – built for lions, gorillas, horses and cattle.

Writing in The Royal College of Surgeons of England Bulletin, Sally Norton, a consultant bariatric surgeon, warned: “Failure to provide required imaging may lead to delay in diagnosis or inappropriate surgery – and, occasionally, enquiries into the potential use of veterinary or zoological scanners, with resultant loss of dignity for the patient.”

It was not just a patient’s weight that could be a problem, she noted: “In addition, abdominal girth may be too great for the aperture of the scanner.”

Ms Norton said: “In the US, hospitals are ringing up zoos to ask, ‘Can we use your scanner?

“Our obesity problem is going the way of the US, so it could happen here too.”

CT and MRI scanners are essential to identify a wide variety of medical problems, from stroke to soft tissue joint injury.

In January a medic claimed London hospitals were sending very fat patients to be scanned at London Zoo and The Royal Veterinary College, although both organisations denied it was true.

Since 1993 the numbers of morbidly obese adults in Britain has tripled from about 450,000 to 1.4 million, according to the National Obesity Observatory.

Being morbidly obese means having a body mass index (BMI) of at least 40, which for someone who is 5ft 9in, equates to weighing 19st 7lb or more.

Ms Norton and colleagues found almost half of British hospitals are inadequately prepared to deal with extremely fat patients, despite growing numbers of people who are morbidly obese.

Besides scanners, they also lack wheelchairs or beds that are big and strong enough – or even patient gowns that will cover their full girth.

Ms Norton said hospitals were failing to keep pace with the changing shape of society because they had so many other things to deal with.

She and colleagues who conducted a survey of 18 hospitals in south west England found only half had cubicles designed to accommodate extremely heavy patients, and many lacked “adequately sized gowns to preserve dignity”.

Standard hospital beds are only designed to take 28 stone, wheelchairs 25 stone and examination couches 21 stone.

Only 39 per cent of theatre departments surveyed had a specific policy for the care of bariatric patients.

There were instances of equipment collapsing and leaving patients injured, she said, while staff could also hurt themselves trying to move them.

Ms Norton added that, while many hospitals claimed to have policies and equipment for coping with the morbidly obese, in practice doctors and nurses often did not know they existed or had no access to them.

The “biggest problem” was when such a patient turned up at 2am, she noted.

“If you’ve got time to plan you can get super-size beds and hoists set up, but you don’t often have that luxury.”

She said: “The current challenges in managing the increasing population of morbidly obese patients must be addressed.

“Failure to provide adequate equipment and appropriate management of obese patients could result in their safety being compromised and injury to both patients and staff”.

Their report is published as new NHS figures are released showing that the number of patients undergoing weight-loss surgery has risen nearly five-fold since 2007, to 8,600.

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