Air ambulance - key announcements start next month

Media release

24 August 2018

The first in a series of substantive announcements about the current tender for national air ambulance services is expected to be in late September.

The Ministry of Health and ACC’s tender process, currently underway, is a first step towards a 10 year modernisation programme for air ambulances.

The tender process has now moved into formal negotiations with three preferred tenderers across three regions: Northern, Central and Southern.

The negotiations remain confidential until they are concluded and the results of the tender announced – to ensure the process remains fair to all the parties involved and to fit with the Government’s rules of a formal procurement process. 

The negotiations are aimed at ensuring the new services will deliver a nationwide service for all New Zealanders,  and be more integrated with our road ambulance and hospital services.

“Air ambulance services are more than a transport service. They play a critical role in how we respond to health emergencies,” says Manager Community and Ambulance Andy Inder. 

“A good air ambulance service has four key elements: optimal time, appropriate clinical crew, the right equipment and the right destination. With these working together well, patient outcomes can be improved.”

“That’s why we are taking the time to work with the preferred tenderers, as well as district health boards, to ensure patients needing urgent clinical support get the right clinical care at the right time.”

The agreed providers for each region will be announced as the negotiations are concluded. The first announcement is expected later in September.

NASO is managed jointly by the Ministry of Health and the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). 

In mid-2016 NASO set up an Air Ambulance Co-design project between the Ministry, ACC and the 20 district heath boards. This resulted in a request for proposal for new service providers and this has now progressed to negotiations with the preferred providers.

Video: Air ambulance helicopter service

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

[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.

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