Buller hospital details helicopter flights

5:32 pm on 10 March 2020

West Coast DHB flew 78 patients from Buller to other hospitals by helicopter last year - at a minimum cost of $5455 per trip.

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Photo: 123RF

The Greymouth Star requested a run-down of the figures after five patients were flown from Westport in one weekend this summer, and asked if the high number of helicopter flights reflected staffing capacity at Buller.

The DHB said the weekend in question was unusual, but the five flights were no reflection on Buller staff, or their qualifications.

Planning director Carolyn Gullery said three of the patients were accident cases and two were medical emergencies; three were flown to Greymouth, one to Christchurch and one to Nelson.

"This was not due to any staffing issue. The decision to transfer patients by helicopter was made by clinical staff based on patients' medical conditions and care required," Gullery said.

While it was cheaper to transfer patients by road ambulance or car and they were used wherever practical, clinical considerations came first in critical emergencies, she said.

DHB data showed the number of flights fluctuated from month to month, from a low of three per month in March, April and October, to nine per month in January, February and September, and a high of 10 in August.

The cost of helicopter transfers varied depending on destination, Gullery said.

"On average the current cost of a helicopter air ambulance flight from Buller to Grey is usually around $5455 per return trip.

"Helicopter transfers from Buller to Christchurch may range from $15,750 to just under $17,000 return and those to Nelson from $12,000 to just over $15,000."

She said ACC paid for hospital transfers within 24 hours of an accident, with West Coast DHB paying otherwise.

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