There are now more than 800 of the ‘bariatric vehicles’ on the road, with almost 200 in Yorkshire alone, as services struggle to cope with the impact of the UK’s growing obesity epidemic.
Services first began wider doors and carry specialist lifting equipment at a cost of around £100,000 each in 2011 and the number has increased year-on-year.
The findings - which come after the latest Health Survey for England showed that about a quarter of adults were obese - also revealed that many ambulance trusts are now equipping their entire fleet to deal with obese patients.
One trust, the East of England Ambulance Service, recently trialled a new specialist unit to deal with obese patients and, over eight months, this team was called upon 260 times. The most common call-outs were for falls or patients with blood poisoning and many had been left isolated by their condition.
A spokesman said: “It has been common to find bariatric patients who have not been out of their homes or seen a health professional for a number of years.”
Tracy Nicholls, interim director of quality at the trust and a council member with the College of Paramedics, said that while some ambulance services were equipping all vehicles to deal with obese patients, others were setting up smaller but more specialist teams.
She added: “A lot of the time we’re only finding patients when they reach crisis point because they haven’t sought the routine checks and help they need out of embarrassment or simply because they cannot get out of the house.”
Yorkshire Ambulance Service said that, since 2009, all new vehicles have been bariatric capable and it now operates 183 specialist ambulances.