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Draft National Air Ambulance Strategy

Thursday 2 December 2004

Ambulance NZ welcomes release of Draft National Air Ambulance Strategy for public consultation

Ambulance New Zealand has welcomed the release today of a Draft National Air Ambulance Strategy for public consultation, by ACC on behalf of an interagency steering group, outlining a proposed model for the provision of air ambulance services in New Zealand over the next 5-10 years.

In seeking to ensure New Zealanders receive world class emergency medical care, the draft Strategy acknowledges evolving technology and professionalisation of emergency transport services, and looks to ensure that these enable improvements in patient outcomes.

Air ambulance services are used for a range of activities in New Zealand. To be effective, the air ambulance network needs to be integrated with, and complement, both road based ambulance services and the emergency care functions, inter-hospital transfers and other services of District Health Boards.

This discussion document is very much a strawman with the purpose of generating feedback to better inform the development of the final Strategy later in 2005. It has highlighted a number of areas that need significant further refinement. These areas are complex and need feedback from providers, clinicians, users and funders.

This release of this document for consultation is one of the key steps in the process of developing a National Strategy. The draft document contains more questions than answers and consequently will generate debate within the sector. Following consultation, it is anticipated that the sector will continue to work with stakeholders to refine the Strategy ensuring it continues to provide the quality of air ambulance services that the public has come to expect. Trends in pre-hospital care are changing, technology is evolving and the air ambulance service has come of age – providing (often fully dedicated) professional high quality, timely clinical care supported by up to date equipment. It is in recognition of this increasing sophistication in the sector that the aim of the draft Strategy is ‘for the air ambulance network to provide cost effective pre-hospital care and inter-hospital transfer services complementary to the road ambulance system ensuring people get the right care, at the right time, in the right place from the right person’.

The configuration described within the draft Strategy is one of a range of options that could achieve the above aim. Alternatively, existing model of air ambulance service provision is well proven, having served New Zealanders admirably for 20 years, competently providing local solutions to meet local needs. The challenge of this discussion document therefore is to identify an outcome that achieves a balance between achieving the aim of the final Strategy and the status quo whilst not loosing sight of the quality of service currently being provided.

The detail of the Strategy implementation will evolve over the next few years and may not be fully realised for five to ten years. Further changes may need to be made as more detail comes to light. However, ACC contracts are already in place until October 2006 ensuring current services will be maintained for some time. During this transition there will be opportunities for future work to review and validate some of the core assumptions made in the draft Strategy (e.g. max volumes per HEMS helicopter per year and per day, cost benefit of national coordination, ability to fly from each HEMS base to all points of their flying radius 24/7).

The draft Strategy does not contain details of implementation, which will involve evolutionary change to protect the gains already made. Involvement and collaboration with the air ambulance sector will be a key feature of the implementation process in the coming years. This is crucial to ensure that all issues and options are considered in developing the new arrangements.

It is essential to the process that all parties carefully consider the content of this consultation document and provide detailed comment that ensures their particular expertise or interest in pre-hospital care is tabled for consideration. It is important that the final Strategy reflects the best available air ambulance strategy for New Zealand.

Stakeholders now have an opportunity to provide feedback during the consultation process that runs through to 25th February 2005. Commentators should consider the draft from a ‘whole of sector’ approach, as effective, safe and seamless national coverage and service delivery is dependent on all ambulance services working together synergistically.

It is important to recognise that there is no need for panic - although this Strategy principally describes a single model, and the air ambulance sector has expressed reservations in regard to the practicality of providing it, it is anticipated that through this consultation process a range of alternate models or variations to the one described will be developed.

Readers of the draft Strategy should not draw conclusions if their existing service is not specifically referred to within the draft.

The proposed deployment configuration and diagrams are a discussion option only and it is anticipated that feedback from the sector and stakeholders will develop these further and ensure any real or perceived geographic gaps are served appropriately.


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