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Health / Mobile operating theatre to open next week as hundreds set to benefit

The temporary unit will see joint replacement procedures taking place in Shetland for the first time

All photos: NHS Shetland

THE MOBILE operating theatre set up outside the Gilbert Bain Hospital is due to kick into action from next week – with up to 400 people in line to undergo procedures over the coming few months.

This includes not only people from Shetland but patients from Orkney too, with services including cataract and ear, nose and throat [ENT] surgery.

It will also allow joint replacement procedures such as knee and hip operations to be carried out in Shetland for the first time.

One key factor behind the programme is to allow people who were unable to have orthopaedic procedures in Glasgow during the pandemic because of travel restrictions to have their operation.

The unit, from specialists Vanguard, will be in place for 12 weeks thanks to funding from the Scottish Government aimed at supporting people in the islands.

The unit endured a fairly lengthy transit from Essex in the south of England, and the Vanguard team were keen to get it to Shetland on the boat ahead of their usual schedule incase there were any problems.

The mobile theatre, which is connected to the hospital by a link corridor, will be operated by a team of visiting specialists including doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.

People due to get operations in the unit will be those who are deemed low risk – with some folk still due to go south because of clinical needs.

A range of staff have been involved in the process to bring the unit to Shetland, with NHS Shetland’s nursing and acute services director Kathleen Carolan acting as the project lead.

Carolan said NHS Shetland has been working with a few other health boards – Orkney, Golden Jubilee in Glasgow and Grampian – alongside the government, Vanguard and health company Synaptic to develop a programme of elective care to support the Northern Isles.

“It’s predominantly surgeries that would normally happen here, such as ophthalmology and ENT, but for the first time we’ll also have an orthopaedic team providing joint replacement for a number of patients,” she said.

The unit will allow the health board to get through procedures at a greater speed in a bid to tackle a waiting list exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.

While there will be visiting staff, Carolan said the Gilbert Bain team and others in NHS Shetland have made a “huge contribution” in the set up of the service.

People are starting to get dates for their procedures, Carolan added.

She told a media briefing on Thursday that the project is set to be a one-off, but its success will be evaluated.

NHS Shetland’s acting chief nurse Amanda McDermott said one primary benefit of the mobile unit is improving local people’s quality of life.

“The operations that we’re providing really do ensure that we’re addressing the lack of quality of life that people are now enduring through the pandemic,” she said.

“So people that are less mobile because they can’t receive their hip or their knee replacement, people that are having loss of vision – all of those things keep people at home, and they become deconditioned.”

Carolan added that the Scottish Government was “very conscious of the fact that island patients were not able to get to mainland hospitals”.

She also said that Shetland patients waiting for procedures at the Golden Jubilee Hospital will still have their operations between now and spring.

“We’re not creating a slow and a fast stream service here, everybody that is on a waiting list for orthopaedics in Shetland will get their procedures at broadly the same time.”

A video, which can be viewed above, has also been created to inform patients of what the process of attending the unit will be like.

The mobile operating theatre arriving at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in December. Photo: Jim Mullay

Once patients have had surgery they will then go to the hospital’s Ronas Ward.

Meanwhile Carolan added that the hope is that any new future Gilbert Bain replacement will be able to offer joint replacement operations.

But she added that higher risk patients would still need to have their procedure on the mainland.

Other staff from NHS Shetland involved in the mobile theatre project includes diagnostics and elective care lead Dawn Smith, capital projects manager David Wagstaff and consultant physician Pauline Wilson, while Angela Prince from Vanguard is also on board.