A RESCUE helicopter based in Tamworth does not have a winch to rescue patients stranded in tough terrain after a new aircraft was deployed to the region without the lifesaving capability.
The Leader can reveal NSW Ambulance sent a new chopper to Tamworth's Westpac Rescue Helicopter base, but it cannot undertake winching missions.
The loss of the winch service for the rescue helicopter, which is partly funded by the community, was not made public and it's understood staff and health officials were informed privately.
NSW Ambulance refused to answer several of the Leader's questions stemming from the revelation.
The service has not revealed when the winching capability was lost, why, whether there is a second helicopter in the region with a winching service, and what the plan would be if there was an emergency winching mission in the massive area covered by the Tamworth Westpac base.
Instead, the spokesperson said "due to increasing demand for helicopter services, NSW Ambulance funded an additional temporary aircraft which came online in May 2023".
NSW Ambulance said the new AW139 chopper was deployed to the Northern fleet, which is operated by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, due to the "significant increase in flying hours".
The spokesperson said the new chopper, which operates out of the Tamworth base, was also needed to "facilitate ongoing fleet engineering and maintenance requirements".
"This additional aircraft operates out of the Tamworth Helicopter Base and helps keep the base online," the spokesperson said.
They said the chopper allows the emergency service to carry out the full scope of medical retrieval operations by critical care medial teams.
"Whilst this particular aircraft does not undertake winch operations, it does provide the network with an additional resource," the spokesperson said.
The chopper can carry out all other aeromedical missions, like hospital transfers and call-outs to accidents.
The spokesperson said there have been no reports of NSW Ambulance crews being unable to complete a mission due to not having a helicopter with a winch available.
Patients across the New England North West have previously been winched to safety by the Westpac chopper out of national parks, forests, remote lands, and gorges.
The winch is used when it is too dangerous or difficult for medical staff to access the patient by foot or motor vehicle.
The spokesperson said the state is serviced by 12 state-of-the-art rescue helicopters which are "highly mobile" and bases are "strategically located" to provide extensive coverage across NSW.
The Tamworth chopper was left without a winch for five years, after the winching capability was seized in 2013 following a review.
"The message we have to get across is that we in country NSW are entitled to the same level of service that they are east of the divide, and at the moment, that level of service has been taken away from us," Cr Webb, who was deputy mayor at the time, told the Leader in 2013.
When the winching capability was axed in the area, helicopters were called from other parts of the state for winch-related missions.
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