Bariatric patients: nursing care and specialist equipment


As the number of bariatric [obese] patients continues to increase, so do the associated risks and costs.

In addition to specialist equipment, there is also a need for systems to be in place to ensure a safe environment for both patients and nursing staff.

In 2001, 37 bariatric patients were admitted to Manning Base Hospital in Taree. By 2010 that number had increased almost tenfold, with 332 patients weighing between 130kg to 293kg. This included a pregnant woman weighing 194kg. Over a 10-year period the average weight of a non-ambulant patient at the hospital was 164kg and the heaviest patient was a staggering 293.4kg.

Clearly there is potential for manual handling incidents for nursing staff and injuries to patients unless proper equipment and systems are in place to manage bariatric patients.

‘We are in a country area, so if you want to fly a patient out of the north coast in a fixed-wing plane the weight capacity is 150kg. If you’re in a helicopter it’s 180kg,’ says Eddie Wood, manual handling co-ordinator at Manning Base.

‘If you take the case of the194kg woman pregnant with her first baby as an example, we have to look at the risk – in other words, what can go wrong and what is the best way to transport the mother and baby and the 32kg of equipment that has to go with them.

‘We rang the Sydney Helicopter Service and they put a special heavy-duty helicopter on standby. In the end we didn’t need it, but these are the things you have to have in place in case of an emergency.

‘When I visit various hospitals and nursing homes and ask staff the weight capacity of their beds and lifters, often they don’t know. If you don’t know the weight capacity of your equipment, you can’t safely put a patient on a bed or use a lifter and maintain patient and staff safety,’ says Eddie.

To this end Eddie has developed a bariatric risk management plan. The plan includes the use of the Red Dot Mobility System that rates a patient’s mobility on a score of one to four red dots displayed above the patient’s bed. One dot means a patient can walk unaided, four means they are non-ambulatory.

In order to manage bariatric patients safely, hospitals need specialised equipment. ‘You’ve got to work it out from when the patient comes into ED,’ explains Eddie. ‘The patient may come in an ambulance or walk in. From the ambulance perspective, the first thing you must have is a bed you can put the patient on. The weight capacity of bariatric beds here at Manning Base goes up to 350kg. We have roughly 200 beds: 60% can take 250kg, 20% can take 200kg and the rest 350kg.

‘The second thing to consider is how you are going to weigh this patient. You can’t take them to the operating theatre unless you weigh them because the anaesthetist needs to know the weight of the patient. So you need a bariatric electric weighing device. We have six 300kg electronic omega lifters with an electronic weighing device, one on each floor of the hospital.

‘Bariatric patients here stay on the same bed for the whole hospital stay. So they go back on to the 350kg bed and are taken to ICU, where they will be nursed and a mobility plan put in place. The patient will hopefully start getting better so they’ll need a chair to sit on. And you have to take them for a shower, so you need a 350kg capacity commode chair,’ says Eddie.

Having this type of equipment is not only beneficial to patients, it can also reduce the number of manual handling incidents. Manning Base Hospital saw the number of staff injured in 2009 drop to just three, compared with 68 in 1996-1997.

‘We have 16 lifters – every single ward has a 300kg lifter and a 200kg lifter so there is no walking from one area to another to get it. They are all electric. We have standardised equipment throughout the hospital and training is done on the same equipment,’ says Eddie. ‘Staff don’t do any lifting – under no circumstances are nurses to lift patients. We position them but don’t physically lift them.’

Bariatric equipment is expensive, costing Local Health Networks (LHNs) millions of dollars. However, it is needed for safe patient care. Equipment for bariatric patients is a lot more expensive because of higher engineering requirements. For example, a bariatric bed costs $8900 and a regular bed $3000.

‘At Manning, we have spent $325,000 on bariatric equipment and $478,000 on electric beds,’ says Eddie.

Aside from financial costs, non-ambulatory bariatric patients also require a higher number of staff to perform basic nursing and physiotherapy. For example, a non-compliant diabetic female patient admitted to Manning Base in September 2007 who remained there until February 2008 required a total of 10,912 staff attendances over the six-month period of care. According to Eddie, this many resources would not have been used with a non-bariatric patient.

What is the system at your hospital? Do you have lifters and other equipment to help bariatric patients? Have you ever been injured while lifting a heavy patient? And have you seen the number of bariatric patients increase?

Image credit: NSWNA,, ans bariatric times


  1. In a Sydney Public Hospital there was one Pt who had an entire 4 bed ward to themselves. A special bed/hired at massive costs, weight of Pt 388Kgs. Forklift to get them out of their flat/truck to hospital.
    The bed was air pressured and fully remote control / sections moved for pans to be put under this male Pt. Yes the bed tilted up or down as he wished and all doors stayed closed due to the noise; it was like an aircraft engine 24/7.
    Mobile to shower..this astounded all staff. Total eating diet problem. GMR was beyond it!
    7 mths in hosptal at tax payers cost, he was 32 years of age. Sad?? one way yes; however he made no efforts. All meals were restricted for 4 weeks. Hydration given of course with min correct diet twice a week.
    After correct clinical weight was reached and order under others was given for lap-banding and removal of excess flesh.
    He was discharged at 102Kg and suppliers of fast food in his area were ordered not to supply him. At 42 yrs of age he was 80Kg and able to gain employment.

  2. Wildy – I think you have just over gerenalised the Bariatric problem – the case you were talking about is possibly the worst case you or many other people have seen and you are using that as your argument for any obese person. Yes I am obese and yes Nursing made me that way. You either ate or smoked – guess which path I took. That was years ago and I have never been able to lose the weight. Do I eat wrong? not all the time but you and others are so quick to sit in judgement of anyone not size 8. So putting into account all the judgemental comments you and others like you have made in the past making any overweight person labelled as someone to poke fun at – it is about time that the government supplied beds and equipment for us overweight people – after all you have all the free anti-smoking aides and not to mention the shooting up rooms and free drug clinics – fair is fair after all. Oh by the way how about beds for people taller then the standard heights – how many times have we had to lower the foot rest of the bed and place pillows so overly tall people could rest in hospital beds.

  3. Nursezilla.
    So you are charging by your statement that the profession of nursing made and caused you being obese. If this is true why did you remain in nursing? I never ever mentioned sizes; you have bought them into this as yet again I read the above by you.
    I am not like others; I am who I am.
    Free-smoking aids? We the tax payer foot the bill for these ok. Persons who are taller due to birth and their growth is not an issue. Over eating can be reversed as can loss of weight and broken bones.
    It is not standard to be overweight -go into any food-hall and see the types of food consumed by overweight persons. Sure their choice, however the downside is also well known and they don’t stop.
    The 42 year old I mentioned was a great result of a combined team effort and his life is as he wanted it.
    If you feel ‘judged’ by the comments, I made none at all. Just facts but the truth can hurt some. Those who state the truth can never be held to account for the reactions of others; however here you have jumped into the pond and need support I suggest.

  4. The bariatric problem now is only the tip of the iceberg. Already at my workplace, a new 4 page bariatric assessment tool has been added to the pre admission paperwork to ensure that the necessary equipment and staff are available when these patients are admitted. It adds a considerable amount of time to the paperwork and if you get a few in clinic you really start to slow down, given that bariatric patients are mandatory clinic attendees anyway. I haven’t seen any extra staff to deal with the extra time it takes to process them and this is just a paperwork issue, not the actual manual handling side of things. I reallly think surgeons will have to start asking patients to lose weight prior to accepting them for elective surgery.

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