Rescue chopper misses out on DHB contract

Hospital patients being transferred from Palmerston North to the capital via helicopter will now be flown straight to Wellington Hospital rather than being driven in from the airport.

The change comes after the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter lost a MidCentral Health contract to transfer patients, partly because its choppers can only land at city hospitals in life-or-death situations.

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

The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter, which operates single-engined aircraft, had been flying all non-life threatening patient transfers to Wellington Airport and having them brought into the hospital via ambulance, potentially adding up to an hour on their transfer time.

But MidCentral Health announced on Friday that it had awarded its ambulance services contract for patient transfers to Helipro, which operates twin-engined helicopters.

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.

MidCentral Health Hospital Services operations director Lyn Horgan said the decision to award Helipro the contract was based on a combination of factors, including equipment, service and reducing transfer times.

David Wickham, secretary of the Philips Search and Rescue Trust that operates the Palmerston North helicopter, said he was 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."

Single-engined helicopters landing at hospital have been a contentious issue since 2008 when the Civil Aviation Authority first warned rescue helicopter operators they were landing at Wellington Hospital too often. Operators were asked to justify their flights.

In 2009, the Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust bought a $3 million twin-engined helicopter so it could comply with regulations in nearly all circumstances.

The Dominion Post