More community funding anticipated

Ross Black.
Ross Black.
Rescue helicopters received almost $17 million from health agencies in 2012-13, but more funding from the community was expected to be needed to keep them in the air and saving lives.

Figures released to the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act show ACC and the Ministry of Health contributed $59.4 million to rescue helicopters between 2009-10 and 2012-13. The majority of that funding, $43.49 million, came from ACC, with $12.2 million in 2012-13.

During 2012, the National Ambulance Sector Office, on behalf of the health agencies, negotiated new five-year contracts with the 10 regional rescue helicopter trusts.

That new funding model came into effect on April 1, 2013.

Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust chairman Ross Black said the new funding model meant the trust no longer received funding from health agencies based solely on each mission they flew.

The trust now received a contribution towards fixed costs each month ''regardless of whether the helicopter is used or not'', as well as a variable component covering fuel and maintenance costs.

''It gives you a bit of certainty.''

Funds went towards the cost of leasing the helicopter, the pilot and paramedic pool, and a contribution towards all the fixed costs of maintaining advanced medical capability and crews 24/7 - ''that is a big chunk of our costs''.

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, which lost a High Court bid to get a cut to its funding reviewed, had been the subject of recent media reports.

The Auckland-based trust sued the council's Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board after it cut the trust's ratepayer funding from $1.5 million to $900,000.

Mr Black said the trust, in addition to receiving funding from health agencies, including hospitals, also received funding from community donations, sponsorship, and the police for search and rescue missions.

The largest supporter of the trust was naming rights sponsor the Otago Regional Council, ''and we are delighted to have them involved''.

Government funding remained fixed and, given calls for rescue helicopter services increased between 5% and 10% each year, it was likely more community funding would be needed.

''Our trust enjoys very generous support from our community and from the organisations who support us,'' Mr Black said.

''It is clear that if our volumes continue to grow and our costs increase, we are going to have to raise more of those costs from our community.''


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