A big red bus brings dialysis to some of the state's top holiday spots

Planning a holiday for most people involves a bit of Googling, some TripAdvisor and possibly recommendations from friends.

But when you need dialysis three times a week, things become much more complicated. While many local hospitals provide dialysis, they are mostly at capacity and can’t fit in any more patients, even short-term.

Enter the Big Red Kidney Bus. Every six weeks it relocates to a different holiday town in NSW. By checking the website, patients can plan a holiday around the bus, knowing they will still get the treatment they need.

Front row, David Gleeson from Victoria (in hat) stands next to fellow patients Mario Ackermans (Katoomba) and Louise McLean (Foster) with the clinicians, technicians and carers from the Big Red Kidney Bus.

Front row, David Gleeson from Victoria (in hat) stands next to fellow patients Mario Ackermans (Katoomba) and Louise McLean (Foster) with the clinicians, technicians and carers from the Big Red Kidney Bus.

Right now, the bus is in Katoomba. When the Gazette visited on Thursday, the patients were a mix of visitors as well as locals taking advantage of the bus to avoid the two-hour round trip to Nepean Hospital.

David Gleeson had travelled from Yarram in Victoria, his first holiday with wife, Wilma, in five years since he was diagnosed with kidney disease.

Under blues skies in the grounds of Katoomba Christian Convention, where the bus is connected to electricity and the sewerage system to take the waste water used in dialysis, the Gleesons thought the Mountains “beautiful”.

Louise McLean had come from Foster with her family. She regularly holidays with the bus and has already visited Ballina and Nelson Bay.

“When I tell people I’m going on a bus tour, they think I’m in a coach with a guide,” she said laughing.

In reality, her sister drops her off at the bus three days a week where she sits in comfort inside for the four-five hours it takes for a treatment.

The other users at Katoomba are those who normally have to go to Nepean Hospital for their dialysis. Local Mario Ackermans said it was fantastic not having to clock up 300 kilometres a week.

“Now I can do some other things with my life,” he said. 

Head of the renal department at Nepean Hospital, Kamal Sud, said dialysis patients can be “tied down” and unable to easily travel because of their medical needs.

The bus not only gives them the opportunity to visit lovely places – like the Mountains – it also takes the pressure off the renal unit at Nepean, albeit just for six weeks.

Staff from Royal North Shore Hospital, the bus’s ‘home’, travel with it to administer the treatment. Nurse Glenis Young said the atmosphere on board was completely different from a hospital setting. 

“Everyone’s happy – they’re on holiday,” she said.

Peter Ramshaw from Kidney Health Australia said the bus usually goes to coastal towns, like Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Port Stephens and Kiama. This was its first visit to the Mountains.

“People on dialysis are very restricted in terms of travel. The idea of the bus is we go and set up in holiday places where there aren’t generally dialysis units,” he said.

The schedule is posted on a website well in advance so people can plan their holidays months ahead to ensure they can continue their life-saving treatment.