Mobile healthcare 'vital' in Wairarapa

By Hayley Gastmeier hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz -
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The surgical bus is one of several specialised healthcare units that regularly visits Wairarapa and other rural communities in New Zealand. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
The surgical bus is one of several specialised healthcare units that regularly visits Wairarapa and other rural communities in New Zealand. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

In a rural community, health on wheels has become the norm.

Wairarapa, with its widespread country towns, is frequented with mobile units which offer specialist healthcare.

Mobile healthcare vehicles have been operating in New Zealand since the early 1990s, providing smaller communities with access to technologies that were previously unavailable to them due to cost or a population not large enough to fully utilise the equipment.

The units that come to Wairarapa cover dental care, breast screening and kidney stone treatment, while palliative care is offered throughout by travelling district nurses.

Wairarapa District Health Board spokeswoman Jan McLaren said Wairarapa people benefited from the mobile units that regularly visited the region.

She said they were convenient for patients, saving them time and money.

Pam Shackleton, practice manager at Martinborough Health Services, which won best 2016 rural practice team in New Zealand, said the mobile services were particularly important to Martinborough because of the limited public transport available to its residents.

"To travel to Masterton for healthcare it takes half a day. It's hard, especially for people who have to take time off work."

The services offered convenience and were "quite vital" to people on low income or who had no means of transport, Mrs Shackleton said.

The breast screening bus parks in the Pain and Kershaw car park and had made it "so easy to whip out of work" to be tested.

Mrs Shackleton said with the shutting of dental clinics in schools, the mobile dental units that visited Martinborough School were essential.

"It means the kids who could be at risk because they can't get to a dentist can be seen.

"If you had kids that weren't getting their teeth looked at you would end up with huge problems down the track."

Mrs Shackleton said the Martinborough clinic's patients were sometimes referred to the Mobile Surgical Unit bus, which parks outside Featherston Medical Limited, for treatment, saving them the longer trip to Wairarapa Hospital in Masterton.

Featherston Medical practice manager and owner Aruni Dias said the bus offered oral surgery appointments for children in Wairarapa, who would otherwise need to travel to Wellington for their surgery.

"This partnership is essential to supporting the rural health system in the Wairarapa."

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