Bariatric Portering Chairs - a desktop market comparison

Bariatric Portering Chairs - a desktop market comparison

If you are considering purchasing bariatric portering chairs to facilitate the movement of larger patients throughout hospital sites, we provide a brief overview and market comparison here.

Hospital portering teams provide invaluable support to their organisations departments, colleagues and patients, moving people and goods around large sites, often across different levels and buildings, negotiating slopes, corners, lifts and other obstacles.

In our desktop survey and examination of anecdotal evidence, it is clear that there are very limited options for the portering of bariatric or heavier persons.

A comparison is made between the options we found available which comprise:

  • Manual portering chairs
  • Bariatric wheelchairs
  • Bariatric wheelchairs with powered drive
  • Bariatric powerchairs
  • Bariatric power drive portering chair

There are mobile recliner chairs available such as this Primacare version which we have not included as they are not (as far as we can ascertain) suitable for portering in an acute hospital, as they are heavily upholstered and are mainly aimed at long term care settings or a semi-static position if used in acute.

Manual Portering Chairs

The Bristol Maid range of portering chairs are ubiquitous in the UK. Seen in numerous hospitals, this long established brand manufacturers a simple range of portering chairs which are non-powered. There are other suppliers of course, offering more expensive solutions such as this XXL Rehab version.

The benefits of this range are the build quality, longevity and simplicity of operation as well as being generally available for sale at well under £1000 per chair, though more sophisticated options can be up to £3000, and beyond.

Drawbacks are that the bariatric version is manually propelled and with heavier patients, this can be hard work for porters, especially when negotiating slopes in either direction or over longer distances. Two members of staff are recommended when the patient weight exceeds 190KG but this is not always practical with limited space available at the push handle and can cause significant embarrassment to to the patient. Front steering versions can be harder to steer than rear steering versions.

Bariatric wheelchairs

Bariatric wheelchairs are now widely available and manual versions can now be purchased at significantly lower prices than portering chairs. For instance, the Drive Devilbiss range of larger wheelchairs can now be purchased for less than £500 though the price rises significantly with sturdier / more adjustable options like this one here.

The advantage of these types of wheelchairs are portability / space saving when not in use (generally they are a folding design), light weight and low cost (plus a huge range of options at all budgets).

Drawbacks of bariatric wheelchairs can be: front steering can put a lot of strain on porters when making turns. Unless an additional handlebar is fitted, the two push handles can be quite far apart, so there are limited places to push the chair along. Folding chairs also have a lot of moving parts so they can require more maintenance to ensure that they are kept safe for use.

Bariatric wheelchairs with powered drive

A number of suppliers provide power packs that can be added to bariatric wheelchairs, giving drive assistance. These can either be fitted at the time of purchase, or added later and there's a wide range available.

The best thing about this is the flexibility offered - there's a lot of choice, at all price points, and of course it turns a manual chair into a powered chair. 

Cons of these power packs is that they need careful fitting, extra maintenance and there's compatibility and ongoing availability of parts to consider - a common problem with imported "add-ons".

Bariatric powerchairs

Bariatric powerchairs are a more specialist option but possibly a rare choice for portering as they are user-operated, and normally patient specific or allocated to a single service-user. They are included only because we occasionally hear that they are used as a portering option.

The advantage of powerchairs is that they give patients and service users independence, comfort and freedom.

The main reasons they would not be a first choice for portering is the very specific nature of each type of chair meaning that suitability for a multi-user environment is limited.

Bariatric power drive portering chair

The choice of bariatric power drive portering chairs has been very limited until now but this example here  has been recently launched after significant amounts of research alongside acute care portering teams, and is now available in Australia, USA and UK.

The advantages of this version are zero effort in any direction (even sideways) regardless of slopes, corners etc. The charging range is huge with >15KM available on a full charge. Designed to drastically reduce manual handling risks to portering staff, this chair also requires minimal training as the e-sense drive system is intuitive and responds to the most delicate input.

The main drawback of this type of chair is the cost, being one of the higher priced options in this market space, ranging from £7000 - 8000 depending on the model. 

With a price tag in this range, a trial / business case would need to be made to ascertain suitability.

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