Emergency flights only to hospital

The helicopter pad at Palmerston North Hospital is going to have to make room for two - a change of contract sees a new chopper picking up the responsibility today for air ambulance missions between hospitals.

The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter hands over the MidCentral Health contract to transfer patients between hospitals to privately-owned Helipro - in part because the rescue choppers can only land at the city's hospital in an emergency.

The rescue helicopter, owned by Philips Search and Rescue Trust, will continue to operate out of the hangar it owns at Palmerston North Hospital. It will still respond to accidents and emergencies across the central and lower North Island as part of a five-year contract with ACC.

Rescue helicopter base manager Chris Moody said the pilots would continue to use the hangar for training and administrative purposes. The building was paid for by the community and built by the New Zealand Army in 1992. It is owned by the Philips Trust, while the land and helipad are owned by the DHB.

There was plenty of room to run two operations from the helipad, Mr Moody said. However, Helipro would not have access to the interior hold where the rescue helicopter could be rested overnight.

Lyn Horgan, hospital services operations director, said the decision to award the two-year contract was "a combination of many factors including: Equipment, service, and reducing the time taken for patients going by road transport awaiting air services".

The Philips Trust was likely to make a bid for the contract when it is tendered again in two years' time, Mr Moody said.

Helipro chief Rick Lucas said that in the meantime, the pilots were happy to share the site.

"We are thrilled with the commencement of the contract and looking forward to providing a first-class service to the community," Mr Lucas said. "I think of it as healthy competition, that is what it's all about . . . I'm pleased the DHB is tendering contracts

in a healthy manner."

The Civil Aviation Authority's regulations prevent single-engine helicopters from flying over built-up areas unless in an emergency. The rescue helicopter trust uses a single-engine aircraft, meaning an ambulance was required to take the patient between Palmerston North Hospital and the helicopter's Milson base for transfers to other hospitals.

In cases of emergency, the single-engine helicopter was able to land the helicopter at the hospital to bring in new patients for treatment.

Because Helipro has two BK117 twin-engine helicopters equipped to work as air ambulances, its choppers are able to land at the hospital for patient transfers which fall outside of emergency missions.

A twin-engine helicopter had been investigated by the Philips Trust, secretary David Wickham said. But a joint government agency representing ACC and the Ministry of Health, had opted not to provide funding for one - and purchase of the more expensive type of aircraft would have to be paid for by community sponsors.

Manawatu Standard