Rescue helicopter loses MidCentral contract

The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter has lost a MidCentral Health contract to transfer patients partly because its choppers can only land at the city's hospital in an emergency.

MidCentral Health announced yesterday evening that it had awarded its ambulance services contract for patient transfers to Helipro.

The contract is for transfers between hospitals. The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter will continue to respond to accidents and emergencies across the central and lower North Island.

"There were two strong contenders for the contract which was decided by a panel of experts including clinicians," MidCentral Health Hospital Services operations director Lyn Horgan said.

"The decision to award the air ambulance patient transfers contract to Helipro was a combination of many factors including: equipment, service, and reducing the time taken for patients going by road transport to waiting air services."

Civil Aviation Authority regulations prevent single engine helicopters from flying over built-up areas unless in an emergency.

The Philips Search and Rescue Trust managed Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter uses single engine aircraft. This meant for most patient transfers, an ambulance must take the patient between Palmerston North Hospital and the helicopter's Milson base.

Helipro has two BK117 helicopters equipped to work as air ambulances, they are twin-engined craft so can land at the hospital even when it is not an emergency.

Helipro chief executive Rick Lucas said he was pleased his company would provide the service in association with the Central Regions Emergency Services Trust.

He said the Manawatu would continue to receive a high quality service under Helipro as it had with the Philips Search and Rescue Trust.

"We strive for excellence in every part of the operation and I think we put forward a very robust tender."

Helipro was a Manawatu-based company and its goal was to look after the region's people, Mr Lucas said.

Philips Search and Rescue Trust secretary David Wickham said while he was disappointed, the decision would not impact on the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter's ability to respond to emergencies such as road accidents, searches and farm accidents.

"We are really quite disappointed but the DHB have made their call. We want to reassure the public in the region that the rescue helicopter is still going to be there just like we have been for the past 20 years."

The rescue helicopter had provided patient transfers throughout its 20 year history without any complaints, he said.

Mrs Horgan said MidCentral appreciated the service the Phillips Search and Rescue Trust had provided. The new partnership with Helipro would hold significant benefits for the community.

Helipro will take over the patient transfer service in the new year.

Manawatu Standard