Air ambulance service rejig

Jules Tapper.
Jules Tapper.
A Ministry of Health senior official says air ambulance services will be redesigned after operators’ funding struggles.

Director of service commissioning Jill Lane said the existing operating model was unsustainable due to rising demand.

Lakes District Air Rescue Trust (LDART), which covers much of lower South Island, had to go cap in hand to the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO) to cover a $263,000 shortfall last financial year.

NASO, the joint Ministry of Health and ACC funding body, is responsible for three-quarters of LDART’s callouts.

Air ambulance work includes attending accidents and medical emergencies, transporting patients, and inter-hospital transfers.

But the trust is locked into a five-year contract based on a set number of hours, which did not anticipate a huge growth in missions.

LDART recorded a surplus of just $15,000 in 2015-16 on a turnover of $2.3 million.

"It’s been a  disaster for us," LDART chairman Jules Tapper said.

"Once you get a certain level of activity with ACC and ministry work, your reserves just fly out the door.

"Thank [heaven] we had some, because we really ate into them quite severely until we got that extra funding from the Government."

Ms Lane said the Ministry was working with providers around the country to renew contracts in late 2018.

"We are currently in the co-design phase, working closely with key stakeholders," she said.

"The demand for air ambulance services has been rising and is predicted to continue rising.

"The National Ambulance Sector Office and the sector recognise that the existing operating model is not sustainable.

"That’s why NASO, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, ACC and DHBs is leading a major rethink."

The 2013 contract is based on flying 314 hours for NASO.

But in the last financial year, the trust flew 520 hours for NASO, from a total of 683 hours.

The NASO contract ends in March but the new deal will not be in place until November.

Ms Lane said the aim was to develop a service that was ‘‘people-centred, clinically appropriate, integrated, nationally consistent, co-ordinated and sustainable to contribute to improved patient outcomes (for both emergency and inter-hospital transport services)’’.

She said they were also seeking ‘‘greater efficiencies’’. Other LDART missions are dispatched and paid for by police and  the Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

The  number of hours flown has more than doubled in five years,  from 252 hours.

The trust received $220,000 in community funding last financial year.

Mr Tapper said the trust ran a lean operation, without its own machines or other overheads. It had access to five helicopters operated by Heliworks Queenstown and Southern Lakes Helicopters, both owned by Sir Richard  Hayes.  It contracted in paramedics, doctors, heli-firefighters and Alpine Cliff Rescue crews.

He said a tourism tax would help trusts like LDART that covered large expanses of land where no-one lived.‘‘It’s not like Auckland, where you have a huge population base and business to draw sponsorship from for two choppers doing average trips of 50 nautical miles.’’

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