THE health minister is refusing to back down on her decision to axe the winching service of the region’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
A petition to reinstate the service – and even horror stories from former patients and concerned members of the public – have done little to sway the minister.
At the community cabinet, Jillian Skinner was standing strong on her decision, despite a question from Julia George.
Ms George made sure every minister was listening when she asked whether any of them had been to the gorge country, to which just a few raised their hands.
Ms George questioned how the minister could axe the service when locals might need help during an emergency in dangerous, rocky ground.
But Ms Skinner wasn’t convinced.
“There were four winching operations out of Tamworth last year and the expert advice is that it is not safe to sustain,” she told the meeting.
“They need to do a number of winches to make it safe.”
Ms Skinner said there would be limited delays from the rescue helicopter from Newcastle.
“It is anticipated there wouldn’t be much of a delay ... about half an hour or so ... but there would be a much safer operation,” she said.
The Leader pressed the minister on her decision after the meeting finished, but she’s refusing to budge.
“Four winches a year, four winches a year would indicate that there is not this huge demand for winching in the district,” she told The Leader.
Ms Skinner said after 10pm a Newcastle helicopter could get off the ground 30 minutes faster than a
Tamworth-based one in a winching emergency.
“So the time lag is not so much as people would think. It’s basically about safety,” she said.
“You have to do a certain number of winches a year to retain the skills and that is what this is all about.
“Now these things are always under review, but this is the basis that we will be seeking tenders for the service going on from here.”
Ms Skinner said she was acting on expert advice and that the decision was always being reviewed, but there were no changes in the pipeline.
“We have to accommodate the services as best we can,” Ms Skinner said.
“We might have something that is located in Newcastle that ties everything up when they’re out up here.
“We’ve got to do the best we can, and that’s based on expert evidence from people experienced in this whole area of medical retrieval from interstate as well as from within NSW.”