Trucking good healthcare in rural NZ

By: Vivienne Haldane

Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ
Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ
Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ
Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ
Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ Trucking good healthcare to rural NZ

A surgery on wheels takes healthcare to rural New Zealand. DOW spoke to one of its drivers, Gavin Hurring.

Because he works with the medical profession, mobile surgical unit (AKA the ‘Bus’) driver, Gavin Hurring, has been given a fitting title: he’s a steerologist.

He’s one of two specialist drivers (Jim Wilson is the other) at the helm of the 20-metre-long, custom-built Freightliner, nicknamed Edith Cavell, making sure she gets from A to B safely and on time, plus much more in between.

They travel on a five-week loop of the country, stopping off for the day at 23 regular sites. The unit contains a fully equipped operating theatre to provide surgery at locations lacking permanent surgical facilities. It’s the only one in New Zealand.

Deals on Wheels caught up with Hurring and the team in Central Hawke’s Bay. On this round, Hurring has driven from Rotorua via the East Coast. From here he’ll drive to Dannevirke and Featherston before heading to the South Island.

Preparing for the road

The 20-metre, 42-tonne Freightliner Argosy has to be parked precisely for ease of access to the unit, to not obscure traffic or access ways, to surrounding buildings and to be within reach of the cables required to provide crucial power to the unit and power it during surgery.

Once parked, the unit deploys its self-leveling hydraulic ram stabilisers and at the touch of a button, the sides of the trailer unit expand outwards, doubling its width.

Then it’s ready for action as the surgical team prepare for the day’s first patient.
There are five teams who work on these five-week shifts.

Hurring keeps a close eye on the unit to make sure it is humming along as it should. "I do visual checks all time: the oil and tyres, see if the nuts are getting loose or whether we need another cable tie. You get into a bit of a routine.

"There’s a lot of satisfaction when you’ve open the unit up and everything is ticking away. Very rarely do we get a call from the staff in the morning saying something is not going or not right."

Health Truck3

Hail to the truck driver

Hurring, who hails from Kaitangata, near Balclutha says he was born with a spanner in his hand. He’s been driving trucks and heavy machinery from an early age. "In those days you did a bit of everything didn’t you?"

He was a tour bus driver for 24 years and also drove the Mobile Medical Technology (MMT) lithotripsy (kidney stones) bus part time. Then 14 years ago, his boss offered him the opportunity to drive the surgical unit. "This was his idea and his vision," says Hurring.

It was a big learning curve and caused Hurring a few sleepless nights until he got to grips with it.

There are some challenging roads for Edith (and the drivers) as she does her rounds. Hurring can name a few. "The Takaka Hill road is fun- we need a pilot to go over there because we take up whole road. The first few corners you’ve got to go round and hit the trees on one side and run over the marker post on the other side. It’s challenging in winter with snow and ice too."

Types of surgery

With more than 18,500 elective day surgery operations completed aboard Edith, MHS brings the operating theatre to the doorstep of rural communities.

When it was built, the surgical truck was the most modern operating theatre in New Zealand on wheels. It was only missing an x-ray unit. They do over 300 different types of operations, much of which is low-risk, day-care surgery.

Read the full article in issue #261 of Deals on Wheels magazine. Subscribe here.

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