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Air ambulance helicopter service

Sector leaders talk about improvements being made to our air ambulance helicopter service. 

See our media release Air ambulance - key announcements start next month for more information.

[Peter Robinson, Chief Clinical Advisor, ACC to camera]

Air ambulances are more than just a transport system. I mean they are actually part of the clinical care pathway. They have on board the equipment and the people with skills that are really an extension of the highest level of intensive care that the clinical services of New Zealand can provide.

[Footage of a patient lying inside a single-engine helicopter]

I think any service needs to be reviewed to ensure that it’s actually meeting the needs of the injured people. I mean technology changes, helicopters and capability changes and we have a very diverse population across quite a big land mass and the question is, is how do we service it so that injured people can actually get the same level of care so that they can be transported from the place of injury, to the definitive care facility that they need to attend.               

[Dr Ian Civil, Clinical Leader, Major Trauma National Network to camera]

Helicopters being deployed to medical emergencies usually arrive because there’s a seriously injured or ill patient who has got some chance of dying and so not only do they need to be reached quickly but they need to have good crew, a qualified crew, and then they need to be able and capable of taking the patient to the hospital to definitively care for their illness. So all those things are relevant. It’s not just getting there quickly – you have to have a capable helicopter and crew and the ability to take the patient to the right hospital.

[Footage of a patient being assessed inside an air ambulance helicopter]

Often with those patients there is treatment that needs to be done at the scene and the earlier that can be done the more likely it is that the patient will survive.

One case that comes to mind is a woman that was injured in a car crash in the Dome Valley just north of Warkworth and she was critically injured as was her unborn baby and luckily she was attended by a helicopter crew with capabilities to provide blood and other resources in an advanced helicopter and was brought to Auckland hospital and survived. And I’m quite sure that in a situation where she could not have had that pre-hospital care or brought to hospital so quickly she would not have survived. It requires expertise at the scene to make that call.

[Footage of a patient on stretcher being wheeled into an air ambulance helicopter]

Patients who have got critical illnesses often need one or even sometimes two people temporarily working on them and you’ve got to have the ability to access the whole patient.

[Still image of patient lying inside a single-engine helicopter]

One of the problems with smaller helicopters is their ability to access the whole patient from top to toe is very limited. So size does matter in this regard.

[Still image of the inside of a twin-engine helicopter showing stretcher]

In a large helicopter there is room to treat people successfully.

[Footage of a patient being assessed inside an air ambulance helicopter]

When patients get good care on route to hospital and get taken to the right hospital, very often they survive in situations that they would not otherwise have survived.

[Andy Inder, Manager Community and Ambulance, Ministry of Health to camera]

This change is about investing in a stronger service for all New Zealanders. We need a national air ambulance service that is safe, reliable and delivers a consistent service for our communities but also gives clinicians the best chance of making a difference.

[Graphic outlining the air ambulance ten year programme objectives

  • Right treatment, right time, right place
  • Nationally coordinated service
  • Safe and appropriate aircraft and crew
  • Sustainable funding]

The change is not just about new helicopters. We’re also investing in better information collection and a much better coordination service across both road and air that together we’ll be able to demonstrate to New Zealanders we’ve got a safe and reliable national ambulance service.

This service will still continue to be reliant on the generosity of New Zealanders through fundraising and the generosity of organisations in sponsorship. While the government’s putting more money into this service it will still be a shared model just like we have for road ambulance services.

The New Zealand Health Strategy

New Zealand Health Strategy

The New Zealand Health Strategy sets the direction of health services to improve the health of people and communities. Read more.

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