Twenty-five new RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctors are jumping on board Queensland’s rescue choppers and jets, ready to bring advanced medical care to sick or injured patients, often in some of the state’s most challenging locations.
The selected doctors have completed an intensive training week at the LifeFlight Training Academy, to prepare them for the many challenges of retrieval medicine.
The course is run by some of LifeFlight’s most experienced doctors, aircrew officers, paramedics and trainers, who pass on their knowledge gained in the field, to ensure the recruits hit the ground running.
“These doctors are here working for us because they are very experienced doctors, they’re top of their field sort of people, but they’re here doing something they haven’t done before,” RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Chief Aircrew Officer Simon Gray said.
For UK doctor Richard Thomas – who will be based in Brisbane – the aeromedical adventure comes straight off the back of spending several months helping COVID-19 patients across the world.
“Back in December, I was working in an ICU in London as part of COVID and the second wave, then in January I went to work with Medicines san Frontieres, to work as part of their COVID responses abroad,” Dr Thomas said.
He worked in COVID-19 wards in Malawi and Iraq.
“We call them ICUs, but they’re obviously very different to the ICUs we get in the UK and Australia, it requires a very different kind of way of thinking about how to sort of address problems – the medical problems and cultural challenges.”
Having now completed two weeks of quarantine in Australia, he’s ready to take on a whole new challenge – this time, in the back of a helicopter.
“I’ve never worked in the air before, so it presents a whole new range of challenges to both practicing medicine, as well as the helicopter environment side of things too, so I’m looking forward to learning about that,” Dr Thomas said.
“Obviously seeing parts of Queensland as well, as it involves going all over the place – looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The 25 retrieval registrars will be based across Queensland, on the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopters and Air Ambulance jets, as well as on the Queensland Government Air (QGAir) helicopters.
One of the most important – and exciting – parts of training, is learning how to be winched from a chopper.
“We’re introducing them to one of the methods that we can get them to a patient because at the end of the day, that’s fundamentally our main purpose – to get advanced medical care to a patient,” Mr Gray said.
The retrieval registrars were also strapped into a metal helicopter simulator and dunked underwater, in Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET).
“In the highly unlikely event of a helicopter going into the water, it’s going to roll over and flood with water, these doctors are going to have seconds to locate exits, operate exits and get themselves out, so the training’s developed to give them the skills to be able to do that and to stay orientated,” LifeFlight HUET Manager Mick Dowling said.
Back on land, the doctors were put through their paces in a series of simulated emergency scenes they could come across while on the job, at the Queensland Combined Emergency Services Academy at Whyte Island.
They were faced with some of the confronting realities of pre-hospital care, in scenarios including a wild house party where a child had ingested drugs, a worker injured in a confined space on a ship and a fatal car crash.
“There’s some challenges you get out in the field that you just don’t get in the hospital setting and you’ve really got to adapt, you’ve got such a tight team to work with, so it’s going to be great working with the aircrew, the pilots, the paramedics, both in the air and on the ground,” another of the new recruits, Steve McElroy said.
The majority of the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctors’ work is performed on behalf of Queensland Health, under a ten-year service agreement.
QGAir has a fleet of five AW139 helicopters operating from bases in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane, performing life-saving tasks and responding to emergencies throughout Queensland.
QGAir General Manager, Samantha Stream, said QGAir was delighted to welcome Dr Thomas.
“We are proud to team with LifeFlight to enable highly-trained critical care doctors to be transported across the State’s aeromedical network and respond to emergencies,” Ms Stream said.