The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter will have to compete with other not-for-profit (NFP) and even commercial helicopter services in order to keep flying over our skies, the state government has announced.
The service’s northern region GM Kris Beavis said yesterday that the decision to move away from ‘highly effective, parallel not-for-profit operations’ was a ‘slap in the face’ for a community that, for the past three decades, had taken up the financial shortfall for the service’.
The NSW coalition government’s controversial plan will see one successful tenderer cover the north coast from Newcastle to the border and inland as far as Tamworth.
Under the plan, an additional $39 million of extra state money will be made available statewide but existing operators, many of which are community-based, will have to tender for the work.
And the money will be directed to local area health services for the provision of doctors on flights, not to the helicopter rescue services themselves.
Mr Beavis said a single ‘super region’ would see Lismore lose control of a much-needed service that has been community-funded and focused for the past 30 years and called on local community leaders and politicians to support the service.
‘Our community started our rescue helicopter service and will no doubt be saddened and concerned by the notion that this service will now be put to tender,’ he said.
‘Under the new regime being proposed, decisions affecting the Lismore community are likely to be made outside the region.’
Mr Beavis suggested a large multinational corporation could take over the service with an eye to the bottom line.
‘The potential future tender process of comparing NFP to large multinationals critically disadvantages current NFP operators that are financially geared to their local area needs to deliver the high level of emergency care that we do so well now,’ he said.
‘Funds raised in the local community will not necessarily benefit the local rescue service, and we would be very concerned to see a loss of community volunteering and financial support if our service were to be no longer truly local.
But health minister Jillian Skinner, who masterminded the plan, said donations to existing services would be quarantined under the tender process.
‘I completely understand that people, if they’ve made their contributions available for a local service, will want a guarantee that that’s where they’ll go,’ Mrs Skinner said.
‘And that can be dealt with under contractual arrangements,’ she told ABC radio this morning.
Truck driver crushed
The helicopter’s latest rescue mission was to Broadwater yesterday afternoon, where a 44-year-old truck driver, who had stopped to check his load, was crushed when the load fell onto him. He was treated at the scene by the medical flight crew and transported to Lismore Hospital by helicopter with chest and abdominal injuries.