The priority is to save lives

It makes no sense discontinuing winching operations as part of the duties performed by the North West Westpac Helicopter Rescue Service.

The recommendation in a review of aeromedical rescue services across the state will be considered by the NSW 

government, but already has people scratching their heads for a reason apart from cost savings.

There are some positive inclusions in the review including making the Tamworth base a 24/7 operation and the use of permanent doctors in the retrieval teams.

The rescue helicopter services were introduced due to the “golden hour” scenario. The first hour following a person being seriously injured is critical and providing emergency medical treatment in this period  substantially increase the likelihood of survival. It is a medical fact acknowledged around the world and justifies the high cost of aeromedical retrieval services.

Medical retrieval saved the lives of a countless number of servicemen during the Vietnam War.

While it is acknowledged it isimportant for governments to review the services they fund to ensure they are effective operations and that taxpayer funds are being used appropriately, saving money is not the priority.

The priority of every aeromedical rescue service across the state is to save lives.

Calling a helicopter with winching capabilities from Lismore, Newcastle or even Sydney to deal with an emergency in the New England and North West would prove costly on two fronts. The first, is the loss of valuable time waiting for the helicopter to arrive, and the second is the additional running costs to get here and return.

Leaving the two excellently equipped helicopters on the ground at Tamworth with all the skills needed for the recovery operation makes no sense when they should always be the first line of response. 

The review highlights recurrent annual savings of about $6.7 million if its recommendations are adopted, but adds it will cost the state government another $7.3 million a year by 2020 to fund the helicopter medical retrieval operations.

There is an important other factor in this debate. The community owns this service – we pay for it dearly. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised each year by communities across the New England and North West to keep the Tamworth-based service in the area.

It is the expectation of these communities that we have the best possible service, not the cheapest alternative.


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