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Obesity patients will force hospitals to use large MRI scanners at zoos

The obesity crisis will force NHS hospitals to use super sized MRI scanners at zoos because they are unable to cope with severely overweight patients.Obesity patients will force hospitals to use large MRI scanners at zoosInvestigations 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, Inadequate Provision of Care for Morbidly Obese Patients in UK Hospitals  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.”

Obesity rates continue to increase in the UK with nearly 25% of adults now obese and 1-2% morbidly obese.

Associated comorbidities include type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, increased incidence of cancer and sleep apnoea.

These impair quality of life and increase mortality.

Furthermore, these illnesses carry a significant cost to the health service and economy, estimated at £3.2 billion in 2007.

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.

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.

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