In March this year NASO (National Ambulance Sector Office), on behalf of the New Zealand Government, released their tender document and process for the purchasing of air ambulance and rescue helicopter services in New Zealand.
Rescue helicopters in New Zealand operate as Trusts and Charities, currently fundraising for 53% of their annual operating costs. The other 47% is provided by way of the contracts held with the Government for DHB’s and ACC.
The tender was an open process which welcomed submissions from both current rescue helicopter operators in New Zealand and outside providers.
NASO stipulated that they would split New Zealand into three geographical areas; 1) Northland/Auckland, 2) remainder of the North Island and 3) the South Island. Currently there are many operators in each of these areas, therefore, current operators grouped up to provide a suitable tender for the area they fall under.
For Philip Search and Rescue Trust (PSRT) this meant forming a joint venture with Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust (EHRT), Hawke’s Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust (HBRHT), Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust (TRHT) and the Life Flight Trust Wellington (LFT) to form one combined operation.
In addition to the combining of geographical areas the Government decided that some current bases would initially not be supported going forward. For PSRT the bases that were omitted were Rotorua and Taupo. PSRT, and the joint venture, worked hard to submit a robust case outlining the need to retain the Taupo and Rotorua bases.
The joint venture, which will be known as Central Air Ambulance Rescue Limited (CAARL), has entered into an agreement with the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO) and will begin operating throughout the entire central region from 1 November 2018.
NASO has confirmed that the base in Rotorua will not form part of the new contract, however, the physical base will remain as a destination to ensure that Rotorua Hospital is easily accessed by rescue helicopters in emergency situations and for inter hospital transfers.
The Rotorua region will be well-covered by bases in Taupo, Tauranga and Hamilton, with the response times to incidents estimated to be the same or faster than under the current model.
In a media release today NASO states, ‘CAARL will phase in a full fleet of twin-engine helicopters over the next 12 months. This will give clinical staff more room to provide comprehensive care on board, ensuring patients needing urgent clinical attention can get that care while being transported to the most appropriate hospital for their needs.’
The Taupo based helicopter will be upgraded to a twin engine BK117 with modern avionics. This follows the upgrade of the Tauranga Helicopter to a BK117 in May this year.
‘The new air ambulance helicopter service will receive increased Government investment to meet aeronautical requirements and ensure clinical outcomes. Community donations and sponsorship will continue to play a vital role in ensuring local air ambulance services are sustainable and equitable, providing greater benefits for people in their regions who require air ambulance services.
This is an important step in a 10-year modernisation programme for New Zealand’s air ambulance helicopter services. The intention is for every community in New Zealand to have access to an air ambulance helicopter service that is linked to other emergency services, is available 24/7, is safer and is consistently clinically resourced.’
The helicopter from the Rotorua base, which is owned and operated by Philips Search and Rescue Trust, will be been sold as it is surplus to requirements under the new contract.
The funds from the sale of the helicopter will be retained by the Trust to be invested in the wider Bay of Plenty service.
The pilots of the Rotorua base will remain employees of the Trust, employed within the Bay of Plenty network.
Regardless of base location, rescue helicopters will remain available on a 24/7, 365 day a year basis throughout all regions in New Zealand.
For more information on NASO, the tender process and outcome visit the Ministry of Health website health.govt.nz