Toowoomba and south west to benefit from better lifesaving service
The Toowoomba base will now have greater access to two LifeFlight Bell 412 Rescue helicopters which will ensure a greater ability to respond to more lifesaving missions in the community and a more reliable service for patients in their hour of need.
LifeFlight Chairman, Rob Borbidge, said the ability to increase the coverage and commitment to Toowoomba and the south west region had arisen because of a unique opportunity which was presented through the members of the Surat Basin Gas Aero-Medical Service (SGAS) consortium.
Mr Borbidge said the SGAS consortium was created in 2011 by Queensland coal seam gas companies – Arrow Energy, Origin, QGC and Santos – and continues to make a great social and financial investment in the south west region.
“We’re proud that our Toowoomba-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter and the SGAS helicopter will be able to provide a better service delivery, and have greater availability to respond to more lifesaving missions,” said Mr Borbidge.
“No other LifeFlight base in Queensland has two rescue helicopters with two dedicated crews of this capability and this is a testament to our commitment to the south west region and the growing demand.”
Since the service commenced in 2006 the number of lifesaving missions has increased each year, especially since it became a 24/7 operation in 2011.
The Toowoomba base experienced record numbers of patient movements every year, increasing most significantly from 506 in 2014-15 to 551 in 2015-16 – a jump of almost 10% which is expected to continue increasing year on year.
In terms of tasking hours, this represents an increase from 800 hours in 2011-12 to an anticipated rate of up to 1,200 hours in 2016-17, an increase of 50%.
The original plan was to have the new AW139 based in Toowoomba. But under that model, the south west region would not have been adequately serviced by one aircraft and it was determined that it required two helicopters.
With an AW139 in Toowoomba, availability for missions would have been at 80% - meaning one in five patients would not have been airlifted. Under the two-helicopter model, availability will be up to 97%.
The growing demand in the south west region was the trigger for the decision by LifeFlight to reposition its third new AW139 helicopter to the Sunshine Coast region.
“No other region in Queensland has two dedicated rescue helicopters but we believe it’s absolutely necessary. The two-aircraft model is expected to be in place later this month,” Mr Borbidge said.
“The decision to not place the AW139 at the Toowoomba base is being done for good operational and safety reasons and will result in the south west region receiving more community rescue helicopter flying hours, which means more lives will be saved.
“The south west region is better served by having a common fleet of aircraft which will be more efficient and will allow more resources to be spent on patient outcomes. It also lowers the risk by having crew train and work on just one type of aircraft.”
Mr Borbidge said that while that risk was already kept low through a rigorous training and maintenance schedule, it should lower the risk even further by allowing crew and engineers to focus on one aircraft type for the region.
“This is a better value-for-money deal for the south west region and will provide a more flexible and reliable service for the region and will allow us to save more lives,” Mr Borbidge said.
Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio welcomed the improved air medical service in Toowoomba and the south west region and LifeFlight’s enhanced commitment and service to the local community.
“I’m not surprised at the growing demand for LifeFlight’s lifesaving services given the rapid growth in our region and while it’s unfortunate that people need an air medical service, it’s reassuring to know that it is there in people’s hour of need,” said Mayor Antonio.
“While it’s disappointing that our region isn’t getting a new AW139 helicopter as soon as we had hoped, we understand that it’s more important that there is greater availability of a rescue helicopter and that ultimately it means that more lives will be saved.
“I understand that the future placement of an AW139 in Toowoomba is dependent on a LifeFlight submission to the Queensland Government for improved funding and we will be supporting LifeFlight in its discussions with government on this issue.”
Representing the SGAS consortium, Arrow Energy’s Community Relations Manager Peta Tucker said the new agreement was an extension of the Surat Gas retrieval service which provides up to 150 hours of dedicated community use per year, funded by the gas industry.
“Since 2011, the Queensland gas industry has partnered with LifeFlight to provide a Roma and Toowoomba-based service for gas-industry workers and community members living in the state’s south west,” Ms Tucker said.
“We’re pleased to be able to extend this service to the community and provide the south west region with additional services and an even greater level of care.”
The LifeFlight announcement was made just a week after the not-for-profit organisation celebrated 10 years of service to Toowoomba and the south west community.
Mr Borbidge said LifeFlight (formerly CareFlight) continued to have a strong commitment to safety and had a proud and unblemished 35-year safety record in Queensland.
LifeFlight will continue its fleet renewal strategy for all of its bases across the state in a financially responsible manner over the next three to five years.
More lives will be saved in Toowoomba and the south west region after a new deal between LifeFlight and gas company consortium members which will see improved availability from aircraft in the region.