Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Rescue helicopter operators propose central dispatch service

A proposal for an air desk is to ensure emergency air ambulance resources are allocated efficiently. Photo / Westpac Rescue Helicopter
A proposal for an air desk is to ensure emergency air ambulance resources are allocated efficiently. Photo / Westpac Rescue Helicopter

New Zealand's rescue helicopter operators have asked the Government to fund an "air desk" - a new centralised dispatch service.

The joint proposal was submitted to the National Ambulance Sector Office (Naso) in December by St John, Wellington Free Ambulance and the rescue helicopters' association, the Air Rescue Group.

Naso is jointly funded and governed by ACC and the Ministry of Health, but any estimated cost has not been revealed.

The proposal asked Naso for funding to implement a specialised dispatch service, called an air desk, at one of the existing three ambulance 111 Clinical Control Centres.

It would replace the current model where dispatch is done from every centre. It would operate 24 hours a day after an initial 15 hour a day, year-long trial.

Ministry of Health service commissioning director Jill Lane said the business case may have merit, but analysis and consultation was needed.

The earliest possible timeframe for a pilot would be in 2017, she said.

"The business case argues that an air desk would provide centralised dispatch and co-ordination of all emergency air ambulance incidents, as opposed to being dispatched locally.

"It says that this approach will improve the quality and safety of co-ordinating and dispatching emergency air ambulance services."

There are nine rescue helicopter trusts and two other air operators who offer emergency rescue services across the country, each trust generally operates multiple machines.

Philips Search and Rescue Trust secretary David Wickham said he was one of the six-person panel that wrote the proposal.

The trust is the largest search and rescue provider in New Zealand with five bases in the central North Island.

He said the topic was "very big and complex" but the initiative was to ensure resources were allocated efficiently.

"I am of course comfortable with the proposal. Air dispatch is more complex and there are fewer of them and they require sometimes more specialist thought and co-ordination, so the idea of this air desk is to try and have a system that is going to be managed much better.

"From an air operator point of view, getting good dispatch is vital, so anything that might improve that is something that any air operator would support."

A St John spokeswoman said the air desk "would benefit our patients by improving the quality and safety of the dispatch and co-ordination of emergency air ambulance responses".

University of Auckland sociologist specialising in health and well-being, Dr Peter Davis, said he was "very pleasantly surprised" by the proposal.

"It should not only be more efficient on personnel and equipment, but there is likely to be a better chance that properly trained people will be deployed to the calls where they are needed."

NZs Rescue Helicopter Operators

• Northland Emergency Services Trust

• Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

• Philips Search and Rescue Trust

• Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust

• Hawkes Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust

• Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust

• Skyline Aviation

• Life Flight Trust

• Garden City Helicopters

• Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust

• Lakes District Air Rescue Trust

- NZ Herald

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