North Otago women have begun to benefit from a new mobile health service that rolled into Oamaru last week.
The Women’s Health Bus – Te Waka Wahine Hauora – has been created by Dr Helen Paterson, an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising in both Dunedin and Cromwell.
She sold her flat to fund it, and has been working on the project with Cromwell’s Junction Health co-owner and practice nurse Alice van Zijl for about two years.
They commissioned the Mercedes Benz Sprinter from a North Island firm that builds camper vans. The interior has been fitted out with an administration desk, comfortable seating, an examination room, a toilet, and a sink with hot running water.
A small heat pump on the ceiling ensures patients are warm.
The bus provides a non-profit service to rural communities in Otago and Southland, offering procedures including cervical screening, contraception, and colposcopy, and hysteroscopy is planned for the future.
It would also be used to train medical personnel.
Nurse practitioner Emma Macfarlane, who accompanied Dr Paterson on the trip to Oamaru, said the bus was fully booked during the visit. Appointments had been made via Junction Health in Cromwell.
The bus was stationed in the Oamaru Hospital car park, where many staff took the chance to inspect it.
“People are really excited about it,” Miss Macfarlane said. “The hospital was impressed.”
The appointments saved patients from travelling to Dunedin, she said.
The service was being run as a social enterprise company. Patients were able to pay what they could afford into the services’s savings account.
One woman in Oamaru added an extra $50 to the cause, Miss Macfarlane said.
Lions and Rural Women New Zealand had raised funds for the venture, and Dr Paterson hoped to secure district health board funding in the future.
When videoconferencing facilities were added, she envisaged the bus being staffed by nurse practitioners in contact with her by video link.