Following months of negotiation, plans to remodel emergency helicopter services have been released by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The new operating model restructures the provision of emergency services in New Zealand, including the phasing out of smaller, single engine helicopters which are limited in their ability to provide full clinical care. They also don’t meet Civil Aviation Rules in regards to flying over urban areas, ultimately preventing them from landing on hospital helipads.
Emergency services will remain split into three main bases: Northland, covering the Auckland and Northland region; Central, covering Wellington to Hamilton; and Southern, covering the South Island, and Stewart, Chatham and Auckland Islands.
The key changes are as follows:
The two existing air ambulance service providers, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) and Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST), have formed a joint venture to provide a consolidated service throughout the Northern region. They have entered into a provisional agreement with National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO) and are working through the details. The MOH expects this will be completed before 31 March 2019. Until then, the existing trusts will provide their services independently over the busy summer period.
Air ambulance bases will remain in Whangarei, Auckland and Whitianga to enable a swift response throughout the region. The Northern base will provide a 24/7 service, with a combination of on-site and on-call aviation and clinical crew to meet demand. Future allocation of crew will be informed by improved data collection and monitoring to ensure helicopters and crew are available when and where they are needed.
The Central region’s five air ambulance helicopter trusts have formed a joint venture, known as Central Air Ambulance Rescue Limited (CAARL). CAARL entered into an agreement with NASO and started operating in the region on 1 November.
CAARL is providing helicopter services from bases in Hamilton, Wellington, New Plymouth, Hastings, Taupo, Gisborne, Tauranga and Palmerston North. The Rotorua region is covered by the bases in Taupo, Tauranga and Hamilton, with response times to incidents estimated to be the same or faster than under the current model.
In the next 12 months, CAARL will introduce additional twin-engine helicopters to provide comprehensive on-board services to ensure patients get urgent clinical attention while being transported.
Helicopters Otago Limited and Garden City Helicopters Limited have formed a joint venture –Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand (HEMS) – to provide emergency services throughout the Southern region.
HEMS began operating on 1 November, providing helicopter pre-hospital retrieval and inter-hospital helicopter transfers.
All existing bases remain and continue to service local search and rescue needs, including bases in Nelson, Greymouth, Christchurch, Te Anau, Queenstown and Dunedin.
A 24/7 service, with dedicated clinical crew, will operate from the Christchurch and Dunedin bases. The remaining bases, with the exception of Te Anau, will provide dedicated services for 12 hours each day, with on-call services overnight. Te Anau will remain an on-call service.
For the first time, the Queenstown base is introducing permanent cover, and both Queenstown and Greymouth will upgrade to twin-engine helicopters.
Two additional twin-engine helicopters will be purchased by the trust in 2019. Based in Dunedin and Christchurch, where the majority of call-outs occur, they will be the most modern helicopters available in the South Island.
The MOH programme aims to modernise the country’s air ambulance services during the next 10 years.
The current air ambulance fleet has an average age of 29 years. New technology, combined with exclusive use air routes, will enable missions to be flown safely in conditions that previously restricted the use of air ambulance helicopters. This is a significant benefit, particularly to communities in the South Island that rely on the air ambulance service.
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