Opening day for surgical unit in Wanaka

Pictured: The mobile surgery in action at Wanaka Lakes Health Centre on Monday. Photo: NIkki Heath

An opening day was organised at Wanaka Lakes Health Centre on Sunday August 5 for the world’s only mobile surgical unit.

The unit, which contains a fully equipped operating theatre suitable for low-risk elective day surgeries, opened for operating on Monday with eight appointments booked in.

Chief executive officer of the surgical unit, Mark Eager (pictured) said: “On Sunday we had a really good reception from the local community, we would of had about 90 people on board and then we had a surgical day on Monday and that was fantastic as well. A huge success.”

Pictured: The mobile surgery in action at Wanaka Lakes Health Centre on Monday. Photo: Jeanette Weatherall

Mark described the debut as a ‘good solid day’, and said they were at capacity, with eight to nine procedures usually taking place on an average day, depending on the complexities of the cases.

While on Monday the unit brought nurses over from Queenstown, they are looking to have a Wanaka crew trained up for the return of the bus in September.

The unit has received a huge amount of support over its 17 years in action, according to Mark, with the Ministry of Health and politicians having shown support. More importantly, he said, was the support from the rural people, which has been “absolutely amazing, so to be able to give back to the communities is amazing”.

Over the last 17 years Mark said the waiting lists have changed, noting that when the bus first started in 2002, waiting lists were huge and people would wait a long time. Today, rules have changed and people can wait no longer than four months for surgery which does make it a little harder for the surgical bus to get appropriate patients because they work on a five-week loop. Meaning they have to wait for lists of specific surgeries to fill up within the five weeks, so they try to conduct a different specialised surgery each visit from orthopedics and gynaecology to general surgery, and picking the right speciality can be difficult according to Mark.

“It’s been amazing, 17 years on and we’re busy every day, keeping it up and helping rural NZ have better health care closer to home.”

The current alternative is to travel to Dunedin Hospital, which takes time and money.

The idea first arose when Balclutha Hospital closed and a surgeon approached the team and proposed they extend the idea of operating on the back of a truck and with his support, they ran with the idea.

The team has frequently been asked whether they would consider parking at hospitals to offer an extra operating theatre, so the next item on their agenda could be to place a portable unit at a hospital for a period of time.

The unit will return to Wanaka on September 10, October 15 and November 19, then every five to six weeks for a total of 12 months.

Pictured :(top) The mobile surgery in action at Wanaka Lakes Health Centre on Monday. Photo: Nikki Heath 

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