Philips leads the way in spinal injury transportation | Philips Search and Rescue Trust

Philips leads the way in spinal injury transportation

Philips Search and Rescue Trust’s Tauranga-based rescue helicopter performed the first air transportation of a spinal injury patient under the new Ministry for Health and ACC Spinal Cord Impairment Plan introduced to New Zealand on 1 August 2015.

The Spinal Cord Impairment Plan includes the introduction of the St John Spinal Cord Destination Policy, giving direction to road and air medical transportation agencies throughout New Zealand.

Tony Smith, St John Medical Director, called Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter’s Base Manager Liam Brettkelly on Monday to congratulate him for completing the first mission under the new plan, which ensures any patient suffering a spinal cord injury, will be transported directly to one of three specialist hospitals to maximise their long-term health and rehabilitation outcomes.

The two adult spinal specialist centres are Middlemore and Christchurch Hospital’s, and for children the centre is located within Auckland’s Starship Hospital.  If the patient has other life-threatening injuries they may be taken to the closest facility first to receive life-saving care before being transported to one of the specialist centres.

The Plan’s main purpose is to ensure patients receive specialised treatment as soon as possible, which can minimise the potential for complications and allow the rehabilitation process to start sooner.

In a statement from Government, ACC Minister, Nikki Kaye said, “Last year, around 100 people received spinal cord injuries in New Zealand, and ACC currently supports around 2,000 people with spinal injuries overall. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause.”

In Sunday’s case, a man in his 50’s was transported from Lake Matahina to Middlemore Hospital by the rescue helicopter.  “The man collided with a tree while riding in a forest.  He received serious spinal injuries as a result”, said Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter Base Manager Liam Brettkelly.

“The man was riding at an organised trail ride event at the time of the accident and due to the severity of his injuries and the remote location the helicopter was the preferred method of transport.  ‘Our priority was to get him to the specialist centre for the treatment he required as quickly as possible”, said Brettkelly.

The Plan has been welcomed by Philips Search and Rescue Trust, operator of five rescue helicopter bases throughout the central North Island, who’s crew respond to many accidents involving potential spinal injuries.

In 2014 alone the five bases carried out over 1,200 potential life-saving missions.  The five bases are supported by their local communities, with over 50 percent of the operational costs coming from donations and supporters.

To find out how you can help support your local rescue helicopter visit

Philips Search and Rescue Trust is a charitable organisation, operating rescue helicopters throughout the Central North Island. Philips Search and Rescue Trust relies on support from principal sponsors and community donations. Special thanks to Tauranga’s Principal Sponsors, Trustpower and TECT. This crucial financial support ensures our rescue helicopters can continue to bring life-saving equipment, rescue personnel and trauma-trained medics directly to the patient. For further information about PSRT visit our website


Photo credit: Kjell Nilsson. Images are the property of Philips Search and Rescue Trust

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