Service maintains its local focus after review

THE Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service will argue to keep winch operations at Tamworth under a statewide review.

The review of aeromedical helicopter retrieval services contained more than 50 recommendations including the restriction of winching operations to Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle and Lismore.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service general manager Richard Jones said it was vital winching services were retained at Tamworth given the hostile terrain where people got into trouble.

“We will be respectfully making that clear to the government,” Mr Jones said.

Overall, Mr Jones said the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service was very positive about the intended changes contained in the review.

“We believe there are efficiencies to be gained by having bigger areas,” he said.

The review proposes to establish two “super” regions.

The Hastings would fall into the northern region.

There are five providers, including the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, contracted to supply pre-hospital and inter-hospitals retrievals and transfers across NSW.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service conducted 35 primary missions in the Hastings alone last year, in addition to 78 inter-hospital patient transfers from the Hastings.

Statewide there were 3339 helicopter missions in 2011 at an estimated cost of $112.1 million.

The report said achieving the optimal statewide retrieval system and service would require changing the way the services were governed, managed, procured, staffed, delivered and funded. 

“This is necessary to eliminate the unnecessary duplication, inconsistencies and  inefficiencies which the current arrangements exhibit,” the report compiled by consultants Ernst & Young said.

The 15-strong helicopter fleet statewide contains five helicopter types and provides for six back-up helicopters. 

It is recommended to have two types of helicopters in the future which should be identically configured.

“It is estimated that this strategy, combined with changes to the number of existing regions and helicopter operators could result in reducing the fleet from 15 to 12 helicopters and the number of back-up helicopters from six to three with the potential to deliver a recurrent annual saving of around $6.7m,” the report said.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service will seek clarification about some matters in the report and will give feedback to the state government.

The report has been released to more than 150 organisations for consideration and consultation.

The consultation, which runs to mid-February, will inform the state government’s response.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service receives 45 per cent of its funding from the government, with the remainder from the community and corporate sector.

The Hastings Support Group will continue to fundraise for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service as it has done for the past seven years.

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