People suffering from ailments such as piles, cysts, warts, varicose veins and in-growing toenails, will be able to save themselves a trip to a hospital outpatient clinic by visiting the 7.5 ton vehicle which houses an operating theatre, waiting room and lavatory.
A lack of facilities and support staff has prevented many GPs from doing operations - a large number of practices are single-handed - so the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Family Health Services Authority (FHSA) came up with the idea of a mobile unit which family doctors could book for a session for their patients. Five procedures can be carried out in one session and GPs will be entitled to an average of one session a month.
Minor surgical procedures will be carried out by GPs aided by a theatre nurse from the Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital Trust, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the unit. The nurse will know in advance what operations are to be performed and stock up with the appropriate equipment, dressings and drugs.
The van will be on the road for 238 days a year and an estimated 2,400 operations will be performed annually at a total cost of pounds 70,000 in the car parks of Sainsbury's, MFI and Homebase stores, according to Daphne Bolton, theatre manager at St Thomas's.
Claire Lloyd of the FHSA said treatment at the unit will be quicker and cheaper - in some cases the cost will be one-third the hospital price and will make minor surgery accessible to more patients, particularly the elderly, who find it more difficult to travel. It will also encourage GPs to do more minor surgery.
Fewer than 50 per cent of GPs in the area now offer minor surgery, according to Ms Lloyd. 'Since April 1990, when family doctors became eligible to do this we have had a very poor uptake compared to other Thames areas. We really wanted to improve on this. We have been told that it is the first of its kind in the country.
'It will save time and money and develop links between the hospital and the community,' she said yesterday.