One element of the MalDent Project which has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is Phase 2 of the refurbishment of the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe. Back in 2019 we had purchased a shipping container which had been delivered to Dentaid’s premises and was being filled with donated and serviced dental equipment. The plan had been to send the container by ship in early 2020 and for the team from Dentaid and Henry Schein Dental to undertake the installation of the equipment in June 2020. Sadly the pandemic meant a cancellation of that plan and the container is still at Dentaid’s HQ!
In December 2019, I had been approached by Caroline Haywood, who is the Assistant Service Manager for Oral Health Services at NHS Lothian. She was working on a dental chair replacement programme and Professor Angus Walls, the Clinical Director, suggested that Caroline contact me to see whether we would be interested in a donation of the four chairs that were to be removed in March / April 2020. I sent photos of these A-dec chairs to Stuart Bassham at Dentaid who agreed that they would be eminently suitable for Lilongwe. You can guess what happened – we were thwarted by the COVID-19 travel restrictions. Undeterred, however, Caroline persuaded her colleagues to store the chairs for us until restrictions were lifted.
The silver lining was that three further dental chairs were replaced as part of the programme in early May 2021, so on Friday 14th May we planned to collect all seven chairs for delivery to Dentaid.
A long time family friend, Stan Harvey, agreed to come along with me. This was to be his second dental chair delivery, having accompanied me to Southampton on a previous mission. Stan is a fully qualified professional HGV driver and a fantastic companion to have along on jobs like this.
At 1pm we picked up the van from Leslie Commercials, who always provide a very friendly, courteous and efficient service. We headed straight through to Edinburgh Dental Institute in Lauriston Place and were admitted to the goods entrance to load up. Paul, our fantastic Head Porter at Glasgow Dental Hospital, had lent me a skateboard trolley to help us move the chairs. It was heavy and awkward work – every part of a dental chair seems to swivel as soon as pressure is applied! However, the loading was completed in just over an hour.
I was delighted that Caroline was able to come across and meet us as we had been exchanging mails for many months. I suspect that she hadn’t realised she would be part of the loading team, together with George MacDonald, the Facilities Manager, Stan and myself, but she joined in willingly! I am very grateful to Caroline and to Angus Walls for the chair donation and for the extended period of storage.
I should add a word of explanation on our destination. Until a few days before we left, we had assumed we would be heading to Dentaid’s base in Southampton. However, Stuart Bassham contacted me early in the week to explain that for logistical reasons we should deliver the consignment to Mission & Relief Logistics in Aylesford, near Maidstone in Kent. Whilst it would have been very nice to catch up in person with Stuart, there was a ‘Plan B’ reunion since my brother Simon lives in Ashford, which is only about 17 miles away from Maidstone. Accordingly we arranged that Simon would come across to help with unloading and then we’d convene at the nearby Maidstone Services on the M20 for coffee, cake and a chat.
After leaving Edinburgh we drove South to the Great Barr Premier Inn just off Junction 7 of the M6 for an overnight stay. This is a stopping off point that’s worth remembering for future deliveries of chairs. In addition to a very friendly welcome at the hotel reception, we spotted both a fish and chip shop and an Indian restaurant next door together with a petrol station opposite – not an inflated motorway services price in sight!
We set off early the next morning, stopping for some breakfast en route, and reached Mission & Relief Logistics Ltd just before 10am. We were greeted by Michael Harrison, who runs the company, and his relative Louis, both of whom had a great sense of humour and ‘can do’ approach. I explained that loading the van had been quite an effort and I that I had some concerns about the offloading – I should not have worried.
Stan promptly reversed the van very expertly through the warehouse entrance …
… and we set about initially removing smaller components before tackling the chairs themselves:
What transformed the unloading was the availability of a manual hydraulic forklift:
Shortly after we began unloading, Simon arrived …
…. and with all of us engaged …
… we had the van emptied in about 40 minutes.
The load was all safely secured in a large container at the back of the warehouse. In due course Michael will deliver the chairs to Stuart at Dentaid where they will receive the full servicing, checks and repairs as necessary before joining the container bound for Lilongwe. However, for now it was time to bid farewell to Michael and Louis and head for coffee and cake.
After a really enjoyable catch-up with Simon we hit the road for the return drive up to Glasgow. The traffic was remarkably light and we were back in Glasgow just before 8.30pm: another small piece of Scotland – Malawi partnership working complete.
Many thanks are due to Caroline Haywood, Angus Walls and NHS Lothian for donating the dental chairs – we will keep you informed of progress.
It was a real pleasure to meet Michael and Louis at Mission & Relief Logistics Ltd – good humour and ingenuity are a great combination!
Thanks to Simon for helping with the offloading and for directing us to the coffee and cake.
Last, but by no means least, big thanks are due to Stan for being such good company on the trip and for great support with the heavy lifting and driving (particularly in reverse!).