To Inverness and Dunblane – more dental chairs for Lilongwe

Phase 1 of the refurbishment of the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe took place last May. Joint work is now underway with Dentaid and Henry Schein Dental for Phase 2, which will allow replacement of the remaining original dental chairs and installation of a further six phantom head units. We have, therefore, been on the lookout for additional Belmont dental chairs that can be serviced by Dentaid and then shipped to Malawi.

Recently, NHS Highland kindly agreed to donate a Belmont PRO II chair, which would need to be collected from Inverness. Through contacts of Smileawi, we were also made aware of a chair that was available from a practice in Dunblane. I spoke to my good friend Mike Broad, who had accompanied me previously when we drove 16 dental chairs down to Dentaid in Salisbury, and he kindly agreed to accompany me on a trip in a white van to collect these two items.

We set out at 7am in our hire van and made good time on the trip North. With its sections of single and dual carriageway covered by average speed cameras from Dunblane to Inverness, the A9 can be a frustrating road to drive, but the scenery is tremendous.

Lovely scenery – and a mist hanging over the fields

We had agreed on a break at the House of Bruar for a bacon roll and coffee, but our plan was dashed when we arrived 35 minutes before the café opened at 9.30am!

At House of Bruar, with our lovely new van – but no bacon rolls!

We carried on up to Aviemore and headed for an alternative pit stop known to Mike – The Coffee Corner.


We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast roll and coffee, before continuing our journey to the Centre for Health Sciences on the Raigmore Hospital Campus.

Phase 1 of the trip completed – arrival at the Centre for Health Sciences in Inverness

We arrived about an hour earlier than we had anticipated, but everything was ready for us as promised by Anne Frame, the Operational Manager of the Dental Department, so many thanks Anne!  Thanks also to Amanda Clark, the Clinic Head Dental Nurse -Unscheduled Dental Care, who greeted us at the Inverness Dental Centre and showed us the chair, which was perfect for our needs. We had brought with us a skateboard trolley, kindly lent to us by our Glasgow Dental Hospital porters, which made moving the chair straightforward. We took it out through a fire escape door which had a ramp and from there it was straight onto the tailgate lift and into the van.

Mike and chair, ready to ascend!

Following an introduction from Elizabeth Emery Barker, a 2009 Glasgow Dental School graduate who had travelled to Malawi in 2006 with Students for Kids International Projects, we had also arranged to meet with one of her colleagues, Dr Fary Johnson Vithayathil. Both work at Wick Dental Practice and Fary had kindly offered to donate some dental instruments  that would be suitable for the pre-clinical skills facility in Lilongwe. He met us at the Health Sciences Centre for the handover.

A box of instruments from Fary, destined for the pre-clinical skills facility in Lilongwe

Whilst we waited for Fary we enjoyed some lunch in the van, courtesy of the picnic that had been prepared by Mike’s wife, Rosie.

A trucker’s picnic underway – thanks to Rosie!

The second chair was to be picked up from Stuart Howie’s former practice in Dunblane High Street. We set off back down the A9 and encountered some very heavy rain and strong winds. We knew that the surgery was on the first storey of a tenement and that the chair would be tricky to extract. My good friend Will McLean lives in Crieff and kindly offered to drive across with his son, Fin, to help Mike and I to transfer the chair to the van.

On our arrival in Dunblane, Stuart’s wife Elizabeth was waiting for us outside the practice. The surgery was reached via a corridor from the street:

The corridor

followed by two flights of concrete stairs:

A tricky curve at the bottom of the stairs – negotiated safely in the end!

Stuart had suggested that ropes and a carpet may be the answer to a safe removal of the chair. Heeding this advice, Mike had brought a long roll of carpet and Stuart had provided rope, so we had the gear!

Mike with the rope, ahead of the action
The red carpet is out for our important but fragile passenger!

With the help of Will and Fin we managed to negotiate the two flights of stairs without damage to the chair, the building or ourselves and the chair was soon lashed securely inside the van.

Mike, Will and Fin as we prepared to tackle the second flight of stairs

After bidding farewell to Elizabeth, we headed to a local hostelry where we enjoyed a very tasty meal.

Great food and atmosphere in The Riverside

It had been a very successful day and it was really enjoyable to sit and chat for an hour over some very good fish and chips.

Happy and replete, thanks to the hospitality at The Riverside

The final leg of the journey took place early on the Monday morning, when the chairs were off-loaded at Glasgow Dental School for temporary storage until we drive them down to Dentaid’s HQ in Southampton.

Ready for unloading at Glasgow Dental Hospital, early in the morning. 

Paul our Head Porter and Alan from our Estates Department both helped us to unload the van and then headed into the lift with the chairs to take them down to their temporary storage space in the hospital basement.

Off to the basement with a smile!

Hopefully we will soon be extracting the chairs once again, in addition to many other items we have collected, and filling up another van for the trip to Dentaid in Southampton as the kit prepares for its ocean voyage to Mozambique and then on by road to Lilongwe.

Many thanks to John Lyon of NHS Highland and to Stuart Howie for donating the chairs, Fary Johnson Vithayathil for the instruments and to Mike, Will, Fin, Paul and Alan for all their help with the logistics – much appreciated. Thanks also to Elizabeth Emery Barker for making the original connections for us with NHS Highland and Fary.


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