Cost of DHB's air transfers soars

MidCentral District Health Board is facing a budget blowout on its air ambulance transfer service.

This financial year the health board allocated $1.1 million for hospital-to-hospital transfers, but year-to-date costs to January show the service has blown the budget by $228,000. The patient transfer service has frequently exceeded monthly financial targets by more than $50,000.

An in-depth analysis of the service will be presented to the hospital advisory committee this month to provide details of expenditure and demand.

MidCentral has a contract in place with Helipro for air ambulance patient transfers, where patients are flown with flight nurses to another hospital. 

Acting hospital services operations director Muriel Hancock said staff monitored all expenditure on a monthly or more regular basis.

"Costs for the air ambulance service are largely demand driven and so fluctuate month to month and from year to year," she said. "Costs have also been impacted as a result of strengthening clinical oversight requirements introduced in 2013.

"This requires more clinical staff on all flights around New Zealand to ensure safe transfer of patients between DHBs."

Hancock said MidCentral began an in-depth analysis of expenditure and demand of its air ambulance transfers last month.

"At this stage our costs continue to increase but until the in-depth analysis is completed we are unable to provide more detail," she said.

The results will be reported to the hospital advisory committee this month. Hancock said cases requiring specialist retrieval with a medical team - a doctor and flight nurse - came from other district health boards, including Auckland, Christchurch, Hawke's Bay, and Wellington. "About 90 per cent of the flights required medical teams," she said.

Helipro does not conduct patient transfers requiring medical teams.

"MidCentral does not have a dedicated medical team of senior medical staff to attend to air patient transfers," Hancock said.

Helipro business manager John Reid referred questions to MidCentral District Health Board.

The Philips Search and Rescue Trust Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter, which held the patient transfer contract up until November 2012, still holds the ACC contract to respond to accidents and emergencies across the central and lower North Island.

Manawatu Standard