Mobile dialysis gives Kiwi patients more freedom


For most Kiwis, planning a trip doesn't include checking out the local hospital.

But nearly 3000 Kiwis can't take a holiday from their regular dialysis treatments. 

That has a huge impact on the lives of people like 42-year-old Scott Smith, a home-based haemodialysis patient with a family.

Enter the Freedom Dialysis Project. It's an initiative that Mr Smith set up in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions alongside the renal unit at Waikato Hospital. The project allows dialysis patients to travel around the country in a campervan that's been converted into a moving haemodialysis machine.

"When I had to go on to dialysis, you get pretty restricted because you are pretty much tied to your machine and you can't go anywhere really for more than a couple of nights without organising a treatment. So the idea with this van was to offer some of the home-based patients some freedom away from their machine."

The van has only been in action since the end of January, but it's the culmination of years of planning.

It was inspired by a similar venture set up in Christchurch that Mr Smith decided to replicate in the North Island.

"I approached the Waikato renal unit and pitched the idea to them, and they were really receptive. So we set up a charitable trust and formed a committee. You've got the head doctor for the renal unit and doctors and a dialysis technician along with patients, so it is has been a real joint effort."

Mr Smith and a committee of patients and doctors in the Waikato raised the $150,000 they needed to set it up.

"We pretty much did all the fundraising ourselves, through Givealittle and fundraising initiatives like movie nights and various other things."

The idea's taken off, and Mr Smith says the campervan has been booked out solidly since its launch. While it is predominantly used for Waikato and Bay of Plenty haemodialysis patients, it is open to those outside the region as well.

Other regions are catching on to the idea now too, and starting their own projects.

It's a welcome bit of freedom for Kiwi dialysis patients, who are now facing bills of between $600 to $1000 if they seek dialysis treatment while on holiday or business in Australia.

Until recently, a mutual agreement between New Zealand and our trans-Tasman neighbours meant dialysis was considered an emergency treatment, and free to access.

For patients like Mr Smith who are still able to work, that's expensive but manageable. But for many others, that added cost could put a trip to Australia completely out of reach. 

Carmel Gregan-Ford of Kidney Health New Zealand says that makes it "hugely difficult" for dialysis patients to retain their freedom.

Ms Gregan-Ford says not only is the price a deterrent, it's nearly impossible to guarantee you'll be able to get a spot in a hospital away from home.

"The big issue even within our own country -- in fact it is a huge issue -- is that there aren't facilities. I have people ringing me up a lot saying they want to go to Dunedin, and they want to know how they go about getting dialysis, and I have to warn them it is probably unlikely they'll get a spot."

Mobile dialysis gives Kiwi patients more freedom