Winching should remain a local option, WRHS says

A RECOMMENDATION to cease winching capabilities from Tamworth has met with disapproval from the region’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, for fear of the extra time it could add to missions.

A review of aeromedical services, prepared by Ernst and Young for the NSW Ministry of Health, recommended winching operations be restricted to bases in Lismore, Sydney, Canberra and Newcastle.

This would effectively remove the winching capabilities of helicopters based in Tamworth and Wollongong.

But Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service regional coordinator Barry Walton said Tamworth should not lose winching operations as if someone needed to be hoisted out, a helicopter would have to come in from outside the region, which could take up to 40 to 60 minutes and leave the patient without treatment for longer.

Winching was not used often by the Tamworth helicopters, about 10 times a year, he said, but it was important the capability to do so was retained locally.

Ernst and Young said restricting winching to four bases would add eight minutes to the maximum time it would take to reach any scene in the state.

It said having winching across many bases could compromise the safety of the person being retrieved, as well as those performing the winch, as competency was difficult to maintain.

Mr Walton said the service would consult with the Ambulance Service of NSW on the matter, with submissions to the review to close in February.

But a recommendation to move the Tamworth base to 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation by 2015 has been welcomed.

The base operates between 8am and 6pm and is on call from 6pm until 8pm, although on occasion it is called out outside these hours.

Mr Walton said the suggestion to increase operating hours was in-line with the service’s business plan and the base at Tamworth Airport was built in preparation for such a move.

He said the change would require two additional pilots and two new aircrew.

The review also recommends a doctor, nurse and paramedic crew missions from Tamworth in 2015, moving to a doctor and paramedic in 2016.

It found demand for air retrieval would increase by about 23 per cent within the next decade, but if changes were not made to aeromedical services, response times to primary missions would deteriorate on average 11 per cent.

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