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Too big to save

Friday, 30th August, 2013

People over 150 kilograms might have to lose weight if they want surgery. People over 150 kilograms might have to lose weight if they want surgery.

By Kurtis J Eichler

Morbidly obese people are being denied surgery at the Broken Hill Hospital than ever before because doctors don’t want to see them die on the operating table.

The city’s ballooning obesity rate - noted for its high rate of diabetes - is triggering a rise in portly people wanting to go under the knife to fix weakening knees and hips.

Nurses at the hospital say they have seen a dramatic increase in the “fattest people in the world wanting operations” with some tipping the scales at 165 kilograms.

Surgeons are refusing to put them on the operating table over fears they could suffer brain damage or death while under anaesthetic.

Dr Richard Crowley said the problem was spreading across the country and Broken Hill was just part of a national trend.

He said a policy is being developed to change Occupational Health and Safety laws so people over a certain BMI or over 150kg will be forced to trim down if they want to go into theatre.

“If it comes down to it, surgeons won’t put someone to sleep,” he said.

Dr Crowley - who has operated on Broken Hill people for 15 years - said there were fears heavy people could crush nurses and physiotherapists if they take a tumble.

“It’s gotten worse Australia-wide,” he said.

“They say they are too fat to exercise but they can walk to the fridge and stuff their face.”

One nurse said people were taking the rejections badly and getting “really nasty”.

Shocking research in May found 70 per cent of Broken Hill people were overweight or obese - crowning the city one of the weightiest communities in Australia.

Hospital physician Dr Steve Flecknoe-Brown said doctors wouldn’t take the risk when it came to operating on obese people.

Those who meet the “overweight criteria” are referred to Adelaide hospitals where people are trained to care for larger patients.

“We’re not cowboys,” Dr Flecknoe-Brown said.

“The main issue is the anaesthetic itself. They tend to have airways that are difficult for the anaesthetist to get to because of all the fat around their neck.”

Post operation also proved troublesome with nurses straining to get fat people up and about. There was also a risk of deep vein thrombosis. 

“We have to look after our patients but we don’t want to take on too much risk.”

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