Air ambulance bids under wraps

A Ministry of Health official has outlined the need for modernisation of the air ambulance sector, but cannot reveal how many organisations bid for the South Island contract.

Organisations had until Monday to submit tenders to provide rescue and air ambulances services to the whole of the South Island.

The request was put out by National Ambulance Sector Office (Naso), on behalf of the ministry and ACC.

Andrew Inder, Ministry of Health group manager for community and ambulance services, said the details were confidential at this time.

Mr Inder said all parties, including current providers, agreed the service nationally needed improving and had worked together on a 10-year modernisation programme.

Under the current system, various organisations such as Lakes District Air Rescue Trust are contracted by Naso to provide the service.

They then sub-contract to heli firms, clinicians and rescuers.

But Mr Inder said the aim now was to build a national integrated network of air ambulance services with dedicated crews available round the clock in fit-for-purpose helicopters.

The current fleet was ageing, he said, with an average age of 29 years.

''Many operate with higher-than-acceptable technical and safety risks, and don't meet all aviation requirements and a third of the 20 primary air ambulance helicopters nationwide are single-engine and do not allow full access to the patient for treatment.

''We want a larger, twin-engine fleet that allows full access to patients en route to provide clinical care if required.''

The move towards dedicated crews and machines has been controversial, as it technically rules out some current remote providers, including Southern Lakes Helicopter base at Te Anau.

But yesterday, it emerged Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand Ltd had probably submitted a bid for the South Island contract.

Established in 2016, it is a joint venture between Mosgiel-based Helicopters Otago Ltd, Christchurch's Garden City Helicopters, and Southern Lakes Helicopters.

It would subcontract to Southern Lakes Helicopters on an as-needed basis, which could effectively circumvent some stipulations of the new contracts.

Southern Lakes Helicopters would, however, use only twin-engined helicopters rather than single-engined Squirrels.

Mr Inder said no decision had been made on where the services would be based.

''We want every community to have access to air ambulance helicopters that can rapidly get off the ground and to an emergency, have skilled and dedicated pilots and aviation crew, and specially-trained clinical crews that have the space and equipment to perform life-saving care on patients while in the air and transport them safety to the best destination for care in our health system.

''If we improve all four of these critical service elements our communities will receive a better, more clinically appropriate air ambulance service that delivers patients in to the care of the right dedicated specialists in the right hospital.''

Add a Comment