Zoo asked to scan obese patients


BOSSES at Edinburgh Zoo are turning down a request a month from Scottish health boards asking for help to carry out scans on obese patients.

Health bosses regularly call Scotland’s only zoo, begging to use their specialist equipment to carry out MRI scans on overweight Scots.

But the zoo, who look after pandas, rhinos and bears – animals that can weigh up to 50 stone, say they can’t help – because they don’t have big enough scanners either.

Edinburgh Zoo cater for some heavy animals, including pandas.


Health campaigners have branded the revelation as “demeaning for patients” and said the NHS should invest in specialised scanners.

Rachel Goddard, PR manager of Edinburgh Zoo said they received a call a month from Scotland’s 14 health boards.

She said: “We have been asked regularly in the last year. It’s MRI scanners that we get calls about from NHS hospitals.

“There are no zoos in the UK that have large wild animal size MRI scanners – there may be some in the US, but not that we are aware of.

“We use specially adapted X-ray and ultrasound equipment – basically the difference is that they are mobile. They’re only a little bit bigger than regular human ones, but we are able to take them to the animal – the animal doesn’t have to come to the machine.

“We’ve had to say no to the NHS because we just don’t have what they’re looking for.”

A quarter of all Scots are now obese, costing the Government around £457 million a year.

Earlier this week a top English doctor warned that lack of NHS investment in obesity could force bosses to borrow a range of medical equipment from zoos.

Margaret Watt of Scotland’s patients Association said: “The thought of using zoo equipment is hugely demeaning for obese patients.

“The NHS has been forced to invest in special ambulance and beds for obese patients, so why not spend money on specialised scanners too.”

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity forum, said: “There have been rumours about this before but this is the first time I have had it confirmed.

“There’s no doubt it would be hugely degrading for obese patients to go to zoos to get scans.

“But is it any less embarrassing having to by winched out your house by emergency services because you are too big?

“Obese people can’t die of embarrassment – but they can if they don’t get the right scans.

“It may not be financially viable in the current economic climate for health boards to buy these expensive scanners, so why not use external agencies?

“There needs to be more thinking outside the box for things like this.”


A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There are already existing facilities across NHS Scotland for the scanning of obese patients and we are unaware of any health boards having approached any external bodies for scanning facilities.”

In October it was revealed firefighters had been called in to rescue at least 220 obese Scots over the past five years who were too overweight to move themselves.

Victims – some weighing up to 50 stone – had to be hauled to safety after falling off beds, chairs and hospital trolleys or getting jammed in baths, toilets and behind doors.

NHS Scotland spent £4.6million on drugs last year in a bid to help fat Scots lose weight.

Doctors dished out more than 134,000 prescriptions for obesity drugs in 2009-10, a whopping 19 per cent up on the previous year.

A report last year warned the NHS is ‘poorly prepared’ to deal with obese patients, lacking staff and equipment to care for them safely.

Bigger trolley, beds and wheelchairs are needed – with more than half of women and almost two thirds of men likely to be obese by 2050, according to official estimates.

The report found incidents involved equipment not being able to take the weight of obese patients, with specially adapted equipment either not being available or normal equipment not working properly when used with obese patients.