North spent £500,000 in four years rescuing obese people

Number of bariatric rescues represents 0.2 per cent of calls attended by fire service

The fire service in Northern Ireland has spent nearly £500,000 (€583,880) over the last four years coming to the aid of obese people because they are too large to move on their own.

New figures reveal the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has attended 166 bariatric patient rescues since 2012.

Bariatrics is the name given to the branch of medicine dealing with the causes, prevention, and treatment of obesity.

The number of rescues represents 0.2 per cent of all incidents attended and cost £493,013 (€575,720) based on the average mobilisation cost per station where each incident occurred.


Across the UK there has been more than 900 bariatric patient rescues in the past year, requiring specialist lifting equipment and slings and in some cases the removal of windows, walls and banisters from properties.

NIFRS was fourth on the list of UK fire services with the highest number of bariatric rescues in 2015/16.

On Monday a NIFRS spokeswoman confirmed its staff made 40 bariatric patient rescues during the year. This is a 26 per cent reduction on 2014/15.

The spokeswoman said the safety of all involved in the rescues and the dignity of patients were top priorities.

“NIFRS works closely with colleagues from NI Ambulance Service (NIAS) to provide appropriate assistance and specialist equipment to help with the rescue of bariatric patients,” she said.

“Since April 2015 NIFRS and NIAS have a memorandum of understanding relating to the rescue of bariatric patients.

“It clarifies roles and responsibilities for planning, training, mobilising and inter-agency working at an incident.”

She said: “Each incident is individually assessed and decisions are made on the appropriate rescue techniques required, including specialist equipment and manual handling techniques, to ensure the safety of all involved and the dignity of the patient.”


Obesity is usually measured by body mass index (BMI), which is a ratio of a person’s weight and height.

According to the National Health Service (NHS) adults having a BMI of 25-30 are classified as being overweight.

If a person has a BMI of 30 or more, he or she is classified as obese. A score of 40 or above indicates severe obesity.

Last week Stormont's health department published A Fitter Future for All progress report on the ongoing work being done to tackle obesity in the North.

The ten year obesity prevention programme runs from 2012 to 2022 and is concerned with encouraging and supporting people to eat healthily and participate in physical activity.

Health minister Michelle O’Neill has said there is still much work to be done to reduce obesity related health conditions, reduce pressures on frontline health services, and make for “a healthier and happier population”.

“Obesity continues to negatively affect the health and wellbeing of so many people here in the North,” she said.

“Eating a nutritious balanced diet and taking part in daily physical exercise provides a huge benefit to your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.”