HEALTH Minister Jillian Skinner has held firm on her decision to cease helicopter winching operations out of Tamworth.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson met with Ms Skinner at Parliament House yesterday to seek a review of the change, but the minister refused to budge.
Tamworth’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service was ordered to halt hoisting operations on July 22 following a state-wide aeromedical retrieval review.
The review looked at experience, efficiency and the frequency of winching operations, as well as taking into consideration the urgency of jobs.
Rod Manning, head of Aeromedical Retrieval Ambulance NSW, was also in attendance, as was deputy director general of health Ken Whelan, Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service chief executive officer Richard Jones, and service strategic advisor Paul Gallimore.
“We went through the review process and presented a very strong case with facts and figures as to why we believed winching should continue in the New England, North West,” Mr Anderson said.
“The minister took our concerns on board and acknowledged the skill and professionalism of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service crews and said that the helicopter service was not in question, it was completely about the safety of paramedics and patients.”
Ms Skinner said paramedics in the Tamworth region had not undertaken enough winching operations in the past 12 months to satisfy the skill level and to mitigate risk associated with the life-saving task.
In the past year, the service performed four winching operations.
Mr Anderson said he was saddened by the decision but understood winching was “inherently dangerous”.
“There is no doubt I’m disappointed that we couldn’t get the winch capability restored,” he said.
“But it’s very clear safety reasons are why the winching was stopped.”
Deputy mayor Russell Webb, who has spearheaded a community campaign to reinstate the winch, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the result, adding it was unlikely anything more could be done to reverse the decision in the short-term.
“It seems the only opportunity will be if we can prove into the future with the 24-hour service that the capability needs to be reinstated,” he said.
Though the community petition could be a saving grace.
“Next week we’ll call all the petitions in and we’ll give them to Kevin Anderson to present to the minister,” Cr Webb said.
“Our community is a strong community and not one to give up, but if they are going to stick to their guns on it, I’m not quite sure where we go from here.”
If demand for the service changes in the future the decision may be reviewed, Ms Skinner said.