Rescue choppers based in the central North Island will be included in a tender for air ambulance helicopter services after mayors from the region met the Minister of Health today.
The Philips Search and Rescue Trust operates rescue helicopters at six bases in the North Island, including the BayTrust Rescue Helicopter servicing Rotorua and Bay of Plenty and the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter covering Taupo and the Central Plateau.
A rationalisation of nationwide rescue chopper services prompted concerns that Taupo and Rotorua would no longer be used as rescue helicopter bases.
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Taupo mayor Dave Trewavas, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick and Ruapehu mayor Don Cameron were reassured at a meeting with Health Minister David Clark in Wellington that that was not the case.
Chadwick said it was a difficult meeting but positive.
"We are back in the tendering round now for our wider district and the district health board boundaries so we're really pleased about that," she said.
"We've now got to trust the district health board and the trust and the community to put together a really robust tender document."
Trewavas said they were pleased with the outcome. "This is exactly what we want to achieve today."
John Funnell, a long-serving rescue pilot whose family helped set up the first helicopter rescue service in the central North Island, was also at today's meeting.
He said local knowledge played a big part in rescue work - "understanding the weather and the local topography and what you can and can't do in making the correct decisions".
Speaking to the Herald after the meeting, Clark said the mayors brought understandable concerns to the meeting.
"This isn't a cost-cutting exercise. What we're talking about is replacing our fleet of helicopters over time," the minister said.
"We've got to upgrade the fleet. The average age of the fleet is 29 years currently. So this is a problem we can't ignore.
"We are aiming for better clinical outcomes over time and that means making sure every region has access to the best quality services," Clark said.
The Ministry of Health, ACC and district health boards, through the National Ambulance Sector Office, are proposing a nationally integrated and consistent service across the country.
Submissions on the proposals close on May 7, with changes to take effect from November.
Rescue helicopter services are generally funded around 50 per cent by the Government and 50 per cent by the community via sponsorship and donations.