One of the areas of Independent Living that receives plenty of visitors and generates lots of enquiries is the bariatric section. For anyone who isn't au fait with the professional jargon, bariatric is the term used to describe products and services designed for the heaviest of people; those who might be described as morbidly obese.
Any caring procedure that is needed comes with a lot of extra challenges when the person being cared for tips the scales at somewhere over 20 stone, and providing the NHS, social services and other organisations with equipment to meet these needs is definitely a burgeoning industry. As I see safe working loads on hoists, beds, wheelchairs and other essential items heading upwards – 30 stone, 40 stone, even 50, the initial impact of the figures inevitably wears off. From being shocked, initially, asking myself "How can anyone possibly weigh that much?", I fairly quickly graduated onto thinking something along the lines of "Only 25 stone? Should I even be including that in the bariatric section?".
So it was quite instructive to have an insight into the miserable and expensive life of the Londoner who, at 58 stone, is currently Heaviest Man in the World. He is British, as was another recent holder of that title. His existence is miserable because his weight makes him entirely dependent and confines him to his bed. It is expensive because every procedure that has to be carried out to keep him alive and as comfortable as possible (which cannot possibly be very) requires teams of people. Four carers at a time to wash him and monitor his health; an extraordinary eight paramedics required for any trip in an ambulance – specially reinforced, of course. Apart from all that professional input, he relies on his sisters to care for him, and admits to spending all day eating.
Leaving aside the interesting question of why anyone who was caring for someone else with a serious and chronic health problem would provide them with the wherewithal to make themselves ever more ill, it does cause one to think about the allocation of resources, and how to prioritise them. I am very wary of joining the ranks of the "virtue police", advocating denial of treatment to smokers, drinkers, eaters of too many cream cakes or chips, but when you hear that 800,000 of the 2 million people who need care aren't getting any, because of cuts (Age UK research), you really do wonder about the justice of providing so much for someone who is very much the author of his own misfortune.
You might also think about the fact that anything up to 40% of older people are malnourished when admitted to hospital or residential care, and more become so during their stay, and ask yourself whether resources couldn't be better spent on helping those who aren't able to feed themselves properly. Incidentally, for all the expense to the NHS of looking after bariatric patients, it costs the organisation nearly four times as much dealing with the consequences of malnutrition. Some properly joined up social care could be saving us all a lot of money.