"It's ripped the heart of the community out."

That was how local barrister Jonathan Temm reacted to the decision Rotorua's BayTrust Rescue Helicopter would be axed.

The announcement was made yesterday by Health Minister David Clark.

"Taupō's high volume of search and rescue operations means it makes good sense to have a shared emergency response approach at this base. However, the Rotorua base will not be part of the new contract," Clark said in a statement.


The changes would come into effect on November 1 and would see the Rotorua region covered by helicopters in Taupō, Tauranga and Hamilton.

Temm said it was the community that had built the Rotorua service up and it was "hugely disappointing" that "bureaucrats sitting in Wellington" could take that away.

He said Rotorua was a major tourism destination and in order to be "good hosts" the city would need its own rescue helicopter service.

Temm questioned the future of safety in Rotorua if someone were to be injured while the Waikato rescue helicopter was called to Raglan at the same time the Tauranga Helicopter was in the Coromandel Peninsula.

"What would happen in Rotorua?" he asked.

Clark said the response times were estimated to be the same or faster than under the current model.

Rotorua was 14 minutes' flying time from Tauranga, 18 minutes from Taupō and 26 minutes from Hamilton.

"I accept that there will be some unease in Rotorua about this change. To reassure the community that it will continue to receive a consistent, quality service a new clinical oversight group will be created to monitor the impact of these changes," Clark said.


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 Taupō and the Central Plateau.

When told the new shared emergency response approach was supposed to be faster and safer for the community, Temm said he would never believe that.

"No it's not and it never will be," he said.

Concerns the city could lose the service were first raised in April this year when the National Ambulance Sector Office's (NASO) made a call for air ambulance services proposals which did not include Rotorua or Taupō.

There was public outcry over the potential loss of the service which saw 500 locals gather at the helicopter hangar to get more information about whether they could save the service.

It saw the Rotorua, Ruapehu District and Taupō mayors meet with the Minister of Health and the Minister of ACC in Wellington. But in the end it was fruitless.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she had sought and received reassurance the levels of service would at least be maintained in the area.

"That was absolutely vital for our community. The intended outcome is for an improved and better integrated service nationally to improve outcomes for our communities," she said.

Chadwick said it was pleasing to see that clinical group oversight was to be introduced, which would be a good step to ensure levels of service, patient safety and appropriateness of service were maintained.

"It should address any unease people in Rotorua have as it will ensure the new arrangement is closely monitored, in turn ensuring our community gets the service it needs."

Local MPs react

Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey said "the people of Waiariki could see it was unsafe to continue the inherited neglect of our air ambulance service".

He said the service would still put patients first and there would still be a "life saving response time" as the closest air ambulance would be 14 minutes away.

"While the service will sadly no longer be based in our city, the people of Rotorua will get peace of mind from the new 24/7 air ambulance that is now on our doorstep and stronger helicopters within the Waiariki, that will have more space to provide life saving healthcare while in the air."

Coffey said the concerns of the community had been heard and responded to.

However, Rotorua MP Todd McClay said the loss of the helicopter was "a massive blow to the people of Rotorua".

"Health Minister David Clark has said that there will be no change in response times, but that simply doesn't make sense when helicopters will have to travel from other centres.

"The people of Rotorua deserve to have their own rescue helicopter service and they shouldn't have to rely on choppers coming from Taupō, Tauranga and as far away as Hamilton.

McClay said helicopter travel times could be the difference between life and death.

"The people of Rotorua have every right to feel that they've been let down by having a critical service taken away from them.

"I'm calling on the Minister to do what's right and reverse this decision before lives are lost.

"It's deeply disappointing the minister hasn't listened to the people of Rotorua."

Rotorua list MP, Fletcher Tabuteau, said he was disappointed for the people of Rotorua who lobbied hard to ensure Rotorua would retain its own air ambulance service.

"Air ambulance helicopter services are a critical part of how we respond to health emergencies in this country, how we get people to the right care at the right time and we know how much our communities rely on them," he said.

Tabuteau said the Minister had given his "full assurance" the Rotorua community would continue to receive a consistent, quality service with response times estimated to be the same or faster than under the current model.

"I know that the process for coming to this decision was rigorous and there was wide consultation where all views were listened to."