This year's Westpac Chopper Appeal is focusing on rural rescues.

When urgent medical help is needed in remote rural New Zealand the Westpac Rescue Helicopter is, more often than not, on the job.

As the organisation puts it: ''when something goes wrong up a mountain, or on a lake, or in a paddock, New Zealand's rescue helicopters are there''.

''That's why Westpac is using this year's Chopper Appeal to highlight the role of helicopter crews in our rugged, rural and remote outdoors - a place Westpac describes as ''Chopper Country'', a helicopter spokesman said.

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High Country Health Board chairman Simon Williamson says getting patients the health care they need as quickly as possible is critical, particularly in rural and remote areas. Photo: ODT files
High Country Health Board chairman Simon Williamson says getting patients the health care they need as quickly as possible is critical, particularly in rural and remote areas. Photo: ODT files

''More than 7000 missions were undertaken by local rescue helicopters last year, including 627 in Canterbury.''

One example included a young woman who fell from her horse.

Another involved a man who was trapped by a tree he was felling.

The Chopper Appeal aims to raise funds and continued awareness for the rescue helicopter services.

All donations are returned to the region they are collected from.

For remote areas such as the Mackenzie district, the service was vital, Dr Albertine Offringa, of Twizel Medical Centre said.

''Rescue helicopter services are [an] essential part of providing urgent and emergency 24/7 health care in our isolated but highly populated, Mackenzie country district.

''Getting people help within the first hour is critical to the outcome.

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''We operate a 24/7 service and can be called out at any time to road, farm and workplace accidents, chainsaw injuries or medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes. Getting people to the appropriate medical facility as quickly as possible is lifesaving,'' Dr Offringa said.

''Without these services it's a minimum three-hour trip for the patient by road to the nearest hospital in Timaru and a five to six-hour return trip for the emergency and medical team involved. If people need to go to Dunedin or Christchurch, it's even longer.''

High Country Health Board chairman Simon Williamson said the rescue helicopter service was an integral part of the area's healthcare.

''We are encouraging people to come to the Mackenzie Country. We have built a new health care centre in Twizel that offers health services, including urgent care. Though our highly skilled practice team and local volunteer emergency response crews do a great job, it's critical to be able to transport people quickly to [an] appropriate hospital when they need it,'' he said.

''It's also critical to keep our local teams on ground for other emergencies, especially during the peak tourist period when we can have multiple emergencies at one time.''

Funding for the service comes from individuals in the community, fundraising activities, and sponsors such as Westpac.

Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust chief executive Christine Prince said this year the Chopper Appeal was extra special as it marked 25 years since Westpac started supporting the service.

''Furthermore, this year's 'Chopper Country' theme is particularly relevant in this area. The average mission is 1 hour and 30 minutes, and the service is essentially a lifeline in the rural community,'' she said.

''We rely on the whole community for support. Please help us save lives, every dollar you can give makes a difference; thank you.''

To support the appeal visit chopperappeal.co.nz.

The Ambulance Services Office that is operated by the Ministry of Health and the Accident Compensation Corporation, announced in August last year that air ambulance services would be redesigned due to funding struggles.

Director of service commissioning Jill Lane said at the time the existing operating model was unsustainable due to rising demand.

A spokesman for Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand told Central Rural Life this week that while the tender process was under way the organisation could not comment further.

-By Alexia Johnston