24 Dec 2018

Rescue helicopter service to rely less on public funding

12:43 pm on 24 December 2018

The head of the South Island's rescue helicopter service says a new funding model means it can now rely less on public donations to survive.

Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter

Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter. Photo: Supplied / Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter

New Zealand's emergency helicopter service now works with the national ambulance sector office.

The new provider - Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand - entered into an agreement with the National Ambulance Sector Office which started operating on 1 November.

The intent is to build a national integrated network that covers all of New Zealand linked with other emergency services, available around the clock.

It has led to the two air ambulance helicopter providers in the South Island to form a joint venture to cover all of the South Island and Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands and Auckland Islands when required.

Simon Duncan, the group general manager of Rescue Helicopter Crews in the South Island, said the ratio of public to Crown funding was different around the country, but the service operated by Nelson-Marlborough trust for example now relied on reduced levels of public funding and sponsorship.

The Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter Trust has operated an air rescue service in partnership with the operator Garden City Helicopters Aviation since 1996.

Before the new contract was introduced 40 percent of operational costs are met by ACC, police search and rescue, and district health board payments. The 60 percent shortfall was met by public donations and business sponsorship support.

"Fortunately now with the new contract we have, that percentage in terms of support we need from the Trust has diminished quite a lot," Mr Duncan said.

"A lot of the standard costs are now paid for by the Crown in relation to the medical services we provide."

Mr Duncan said due to policy requirements of the new air ambulance contracts with the Crown, the service would also be curbing information it released to the public about rescue missions.

"We have to be quite particular around patient confidentiality and health information," he said.

"The aeromedical crew requirement is to put the patient needs first as their primary function, and anything else they manage to do during their shifts becomes secondary, including media releases."

The nationwide Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand is supported by existing trusts: Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust, Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust, Lakes District Air Rescue Trust and Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter Trust.

Funds raised by each trust would continue to support services in their area, Mr Duncan said.

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