8 Sep 2017

Under the Knife and On the Go - New Zealand's Surgical Bus

From Country Life, 9:40 pm on 8 September 2017

Don't call Jim Wilson a bus driver - he is one of three steer-ologists who drives New Zealand's mobile surgical bus the length and breadth of the country.

For 15 years, the 'operating theatre on wheels' has been rolling into rural towns to deliver health care.

Almost 22,000 procedures have been carried out on board.

Jim's been driving the bus for 15 years.

"Tour buses are 12 metres and this thing's 20. It's a metre longer than a truck and trailer but it doesn't bend in the middle... so you've got to watch your cornering.

"Some places we can't go because we're just too big...To get over the Rimutaka Hill and Takaka Hill we use a pilot vehicle just so we can use the whole road."

The bus is on the road every weekday for almost 11 months of the year.

Once Jim pulls in to one of the 23 towns on the bus' route, often late in the evening, he helps set it up for surgery the next day.

Watch the Mobile Surgical Unit being set up for the day here

The walls of the unit slide out and equipment is un-lashed from its travelling position to create a 30m2 operating theatre.

The chief executive of Mobile Health, Mark Eager, says any type of surgery could be carried out on board, but in rural centres the bus is used for low-risk, elective day surgery.

Common procedures include colonoscopies, gastroscopies, pediatric dental surgery, laproscopic gynecological procedures, minor orthopaedic surgery and skin grafts.

"It's patients who are on the waiting list for the DHB and the DHB tells us what the biggest demand is in the town... and we just have to provide the appropriate staff and surgeons."

When he's not driving, steer-ologist Jim carries out maintenance on the bus and keeps the staff fed and watered. He's also sent out to buy supplies when they're running low.

"How many pregnancy tests do you usually buy at a time, Jim?"  asks Mark.

"Oh usually about 20 or so," he replies. "You get some odd looks."