The Sunflower chair is a lightweight, folding, wheeled chair for transporting immobile or injured patients securely out of buildings, down stairs, or into vehicles in scenarios where an ordinary wheelchair would be too large, too heavy or too difficult to manoeuvre.
This is the minimalist, low-tech descendant of the legendary stretcher chair, used in countless ambulances since the Blitz, now with polypropylene seat panels, nylon wheels and a tough high-visibility frame.
The front wheels are vestigial, lockable castors, providing 360-degree manoeuvrability, with load-bearing nylon wheels at the back of the chair.
There is a serrated handgrip at the rear, plus side- and foot- bars for second, third or fourth attendants. A nylon chest strap holds the patient securely in place. The panels are wipeable, or can be unscrewed if substantial cleaning is required.
Wheeling down steps
We tested out the Sunflower Evacuation chair by strapping my junior partner into it during his coffee break and wheeling him about merrily, without spilling anything.
By tilting the chair back, you could wheel it forwards down steps like a sack truck, with the rear wheels running down the vertical faces of the stairs. But when I did this, untrained and on my own, with a full-sized passenger aboard, it felt rather unsafe and caused the practice manager to quote health-and-safety regulations at us, with her prediction of how many locums would be needed until we were out of plaster.
The safe approach on stairs would be a two-, three-, or even four-person lift. I have seen pairs of small but determined female paramedics use this type of chair successfully with large patients.
A little web browsing reveals a number of similar products aimed at rescue and evacuation, many from the US.
These models do cost more and offer some exotic features, such as self-braking caterpillar tracks, rotating triple rear wheel assemblies, or even a toboggan action to negotiate stairs.
In demonstrations, these chairs are usually shown being handled by one person, who is seen deftly guiding patients long distances down the fire stairs of a skyscraper.
If you work in premises with staff or patients upstairs, or you have a disabled employee, you need to plan what to do if there is a fire or major incident, or if someone suddenly falls ill.
At our new health centre we have a lift (which should not be used in the event of any incident) and several flights of stairs to consider.
Surgeries in converted older buildings may have more complicated escape routes, with narrow stairs, even more of a problem in an emergency.
If you have to negotiate narrow stairs, you would need to train groups of staff to do a multi-person lift with the Sunflower chair, which would also cope effectively with ground floor solo evacuation.
The British-built Sunflower folds up easily, weighs only 9kg and can be kept wall mounted right where it is needed.
- An independent review by Dr Stefan Cembrowicz, a GP in Bristol
- Equipment provided by Williams Medical Supplies