Mobile operating theatre for Orkney and Shetland

£2.3 million to support elective procedures.


A mobile operating theatre, supported by more than £2.3 million Scottish Government funding, will enable almost 350 elective surgeries to go ahead for patients in Orkney and Shetland.

The specialist unit has opened at Gilbert Bain Hospital in Shetland and will allow cataract and orthopaedic joint operations to go ahead for patients who have faced delays in receiving treatment due to the pandemic and may have otherwise had to travel to the mainland for their procedure. This includes some operations that have never been performed before on the island.

A mobile MRI unit has also been used to enable patients to have all appropriate scans undertaken prior to surgery in the additional theatre capacity. 

The unit, which will remain on site until June 2022, will also support theatre activity from April during the second phase of essential building works in the main hospital building.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said:

“I am pleased we have been able to support the mobile unit in Shetland to provide additional theatre and MRI capacity to give island patients essential access to treatment closer to home.

“As NHS Scotland continues to deal with the challenges of COVID-19 this is a great example of innovation and dedication to the delivery of care.”

Diagnostics and Elective Care Lead for NHS Shetland Dawn Smith said:

“By the end of the first two weeks of using this mobile operating theatre, we will have done the cataract activity we would normally perform in 15 months, reducing waiting times for new referrals from 18 months to under 12 weeks for most. This is obviously really great news for patients whose quality of life was affected by vision impairment.”

Patients will be prioritised based on clinical need and length of wait across the Boards.


Most recent figures show 111 patients in Orkney and 90 patients in Shetland were waiting for opthamology procedures, while 87 patients in Orkney and 74 in Shetland have been waiting for orthopaedic surgery.

NHS Shetland engaged with Vanguard, the UK’s leading medical infrastructure provider, to undertake a site survey and scoping exercise in summer 2021 which determined that a laminar flow theatre was achievable.  

The funding allocation relates to the delivery of 348 theatre cases across specialties with the longest waits. 

The mobile theatre unit will allow normal levels of theatre activity to continue through Phase 2 of the NHS Shetland Ambulatory Care capital project which starts in April 2022, preventing waiting lists from increasing significantly during these essential building works.


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