BTS 2023, News

B-double on the highway to health

One of the displays garnering a lot of interest as part of the South Bank Truck Festival was the ‘Heart of Australia’ B-double, with the latest-model DAF XF and B-double trailers essentially a purpose-built medical clinic on wheels.

Since its inception nine years ago with one truck, the Heart of Australia program now operates five trucks providing specialist medical services to over 40 rural and remote communities across Queensland.

Under the leadership of Heart of Australia founder, cardiologist Dr Rolf Gomes, services provided to patients range from cardiology and neurology through to gastroenterology, sleep and respiratory specialties and geriatric medicine.

With three B-doubles and a single-trailer unit on the road, communities from Cooktown in the north through to Quilpie in the south have access to a range of medical services which would normally only be accessible via travelling significant distances to the larger centres.

Ainslee Wallace is the partnerships and communications co-ordinator with Heart of Australia and gave some background to the services provided over a large geographical area.

“Our program was specifically cardiology to begin with, but the demand from the community has driven it and we now have around 27 specialists across 11 specialties and 40 staff,” Wallace said.

“Since we commenced in 2014 we have seen around 16,000 patients and saved those patients around 33 million kilometres in travel accessing our services, and importantly we have saved over 600 lives.

“We are a referral-based service, so we have a lot of engagement with local GP’s and the uptake has been really good – people appreciate the service and once we commit to a community we aim to stay there.”

Currently the Heart of Australia trucks are deployed on a regular ‘clinic run’, with one truck running west through Charleville to Quilpie, another working its way along the Queensland coast from Childers to Cooktown and the third truck taking in Charters Towers, Cloncurry, Longreach and Emerald in a circular route.

Static clinics are also held at Weipa and on Palm Island. The single-trailer unit is set up to service former mine workers with lung and respiratory screening on a regular basis.

‘Heart 4’ driver Ben Williams (l) and Heart of Australia founder Dr Rolf Gomes (r) at the South Bank Truck Festival display.

‘Heart 4’ is the DAF unit which runs up the coast every four weeks and is under the control of driver Ben Williams.

Featuring the full quota of safety features and specifications to get the job done, the DAF is powered along by the latest Paccar MX13 engine rated at 530 horsepower coupled to a ZF Traxion automated gearbox.

The B-double trailers are set up with a full allocation of medical and diagnostic equipment along with water tanks and generators allowing the unit to be fully self-sufficient if away from static power and water supply.

Needless to say, keeping the ‘show on the road’ can be a costly exercise and the program has solid corporate support from companies such as PACCAR Australia, along with IOR, Bridgestone and Frasers Livestock Transport.

“Corporate support is something we couldn’t do without, it means we can run the service without passing the costs on, our patients pay here what they pay in the city,” Wallace said.

Up until now the program has been solely based in Queensland but plans are afoot to expand across the borders into the Northern Territory and Western Australia to bring these essential medical services close to those ‘further out’.

“The programs we run work, so we are looking at scaling it up into the other states, it’s just a matter of getting the support,” she said. For further information about the Heart of Australia program and their ‘Highway to Health’ initiatives, click here.

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