LifeFlight chopper doctors fly through 1st year in Wide Bay-Burnett

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctors have flown through their first year on board the Bundaberg-based rescue helicopter, performing more than 189 missions since they joined the service.

Critical Care Doctors were rostered onto the local chopper for the first time in August last year with the first mission tasked on the 21st of August.

Dr Peter Henderson was the doctor on shift that day, when the aeromedical crew responded to an elderly man who suffered a concussion, after falling from a horse while mustering.  He was airlifted to Bundaberg Hospital in what became the first of many missions involving Critical Care Doctors in the Wide Bay-Burnett region and beyond.

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The Bundaberg-based doctors first mission in August 2022.

“I do remember that first job.  There are a lot of missions that stay with you which are either memorable because of the people we help, because of the medical response required or because of the circumstances surrounding it,” said Dr Henderson.

His most memorable mission was in February, when the crew was tasked to winch a woman who had suffered a medical episode on board a cruise ship, which was travelling north of Bundaberg.

“That was my first live winch.  To do it down onto a cruise ship, well I am told by other experienced responders that it is almost a once-in-a-career moment.  There was a lot of adrenaline, but we are well-trained for these scenarios and the pilot was phenomenal.  He held that chopper in a hover while the ship was still moving below, but he was so steady, it was as though everything was perfectly still as I went down the line.  Our aviators are just amazing and we had a good result for the patient,” said Dr Henderson. 

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Dr Henderson winching the patient from the cruise ship in February 2023.

Up to the end of the Financial Year, RACQ LifeFlight Rescue figures show the Critical Care Doctors participated in more than 82 missions requiring response directly to an emergency scene, with jobs including dingo attacks, serious motor vehicle incidents, injuries at island locations and rescues from remote areas. 

The Critical Care Doctors enhance the already high standard of aeromedical care which has been provided in the region for 25 years by the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) Flight Paramedics on board the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter.

“The QAS Flight Paramedics are just phenomenal. They’ve been working in these environments for decades. As doctors we have so much to learn from them.  A lot of us are brought up and trained in the more protected environment of a hospital with plenty of staff around us.  Out here, it’s different. When it comes to things like safety around a car accident, or getting people out of difficult locations, there’s definitely a lot of knowledge we would lean on them for,” said Dr Henderson.

The Critical Care Doctors and Flight Paramedics perform another vital service, with more than one hundred Inter Hospital Transfer (IHT) taskings, when patients are airlifted from regional medical facilities across the Wide Bay-Burnett, to centres where they can receive higher levels of care.

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A mountainfall mission in December 2022 .

“The statistics from this first year of having the doctors as part of the aeromedical team, prove the need was absolutely there in the Wide Bay-Burnett. It was definitely time for the service to be enhanced and the number of critical missions shows it was justified,” said local LifeFlight Regional Advisory Chair Neil McPhillips.

It was thanks to the passion and dedication of the community and members of the Wide Bay-Burnett LifeFlight Regional Advisory Committee (RAC) that the Critical Care Doctors became part of the local service.

“We have always believed the residents of this community, no matter how remote they may be, deserve to have access to the same levels of medical care available in major centres.  This is a booming region and we wanted to make sure people can prosper and be secure in the knowledge there is the best possible aeromedical care on hand, when they need it,” said Mr McPhillips.

They worked tirelessly to raise funds, with generous donors enabling them to raise enough money to provide doctors three days a week, before lobbying for Australian Government funding to supplement their efforts and expand to seven days a week since February.

LifeFlight and the RAC continue to work towards a goal of providing Critical Care Doctors rostered 24/7, every day of the year.

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A mission to K’gari in January 2023.