As Britain battles an ongoing obesity crisis, the NHS is investing in more equipment to store severely overweight bodies in mortuaries, a HuffPost UK investigation has found.
Freedom of Information responses from 101 NHS trusts revealed nearly six in 10 had since 2014 bought extra-large fridges, trays, trolleys or blankets for use in hospital mortuaries.
Respondents included Sheffield Children’s Hospital, which said it is planning to install a bariatric fridge in its mortuary this year – equipment typically used to store bodies weighing over 200 kilograms.
The data demonstrates the ways in which hospitals are having to adapt to persistent rates of obesity, which cost the NHS £6.1bn in 2014/15 – a figure which is projected to rise to nearly £10bn by 2050.
Some 28% of children in England aged two to 15 are now classed as overweight or obese, according to the NHS.
Latest figures from NHS Digital show just over a quarter of adults were obese in 2016/17, up 15% from 1993. Meanwhile, obesity was either a factor in, or the direct cause of 617,000 hospital admissions 2016/17, an 18% rise on the previous year.
Obesity accounts for more than 30,000 deaths each year, according to PHE.
The Human Tissue Authority, which regulates human tissue and organ handling, says all organisations managing mortuary sites should have bariatric facilities.
It adds that organisations should “build into their plans actions that might be taken to address an increased need”.
Cambridge University Hospitals trust adapted their existing mortuary space in 2016 to provide an additional 12 bariatric spaces, while Hillingdon Hospitals trust added an extra four larger spaces in an existing fridge.
Two trusts – North West Anglia and Frimley – said they have in recent years brought in cold blankets to allow the bodies of large patients to be refrigerated.
Peterborough City Hospital said they had bought a refrigerated blanket in 2017, “specifically for the storage of very large patients who will not fit in the bariatric fridge spaces.
“This blanket is designed to go over the patient and is attached to a refrigeration unit, to keep the patient at a suitable temperature, until collection by the funeral director,” the trust said.
Obesity puts a great amount of pressure on the NHS and costs billions of pounds every yearDHSC
Fifteen larger spaces and five super-bariatric spaces were added at sites managed by Poole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The trust also added a body lift capable of lifting up to 245 kilograms.
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals brought in new bariatric mortuary facilities as part of a wider refurbishment, as well as widened their chapel doors and added bariatric chapel drapes.
Dudley Group NHS foundation trust recently obtained a quote to convert ordinary body storage spaces (currently up to 27 stone) to provide three
additional bariatric spaces with which can take up to 60 stone.
The Department for Health and Social Care said: “There’s no doubt that obesity puts a great amount of pressure on the NHS and costs billions of pounds every year.
“Prevention is better than cure, which is why we are delivering our child obesity plan with measures to halve child obesity by 2030.”
It added: “Our bold new plan will benefit every child by helping to reduce their exposure to sugary and fatty foods in store, on TV and online and getting them moving more in school each day. We are also giving £3bn to local councils to fund public health services over this year.”