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Statement By The Coromandel Rescue Trust On The Health Select Committee

The Health Select Committee of Parliament responded late last month to the petition (signed by more than 46,000 people) for a rescue helicopter to be based on the Coromandel over the busy holiday periods. The committee took into account written and verbal submissions from both the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO) and Whitianga residents Stephan Bosman (the “petitioner”), Walter Russell and Kevin Pringle.

The Select Committee’s response to the petition is promising. They recognised “…the complexity of delivering road and air ambulance services in regions like the Coromandel, with widely dispersed populations, separated by rural and often winding roads and with communities that are subject to large seasonal variations in population.

However, the committee members acknowledged that the needs of the Coromandel have to be considered within “a wider context,” including “…an integrated system of road and air ambulance services which ensures the delivery of timely and clinically appropriate emergency care” and “…a wider regional network of air ambulance services which ensures timely responses and equitable access across the wider populations it serves.”

The committee encouraged “…NASO to facilitate discussions between the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust, St John, Northern Rescue Helicopter [Limited] and the [Waikato] District Health Board on the best integration of road and air ambulance services on the Coromandel, with a view to develop a shared understanding of utilisation rates at peak holiday periods and at what point St John would consider increasing resources for road ambulance services in particular areas at particular times of the year.”

The committee also encouraged “…Norther Rescue Helicopter Limited to continue to work with the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust to explore options which ensures the best coverage of the Coromandel for air ambulance services, as well as to develop a shared understanding of the circumstances under which Northern Rescue Helicopter Limited would consider permanently basing an air ambulance in Whitianga during the peak holiday season.”

Discussions between Northern Rescue Helicopter Limited (NRHL) and us have been ongoing for some time. In January, NRHL based a helicopter in Whitianga on a trial basis. Unbeknown to many, the helicopter was crewed by staff sacrificing some of their annual leave.

The outcome of the trial was that NRHL is in clear need of a third rescue helicopter (in addition to the two they are obliged to base at Ardmore Airport south of Auckland) over the busy holiday periods. The demand for their services continues to grow. They deem Whitianga the most appropriate location for such a third helicopter. However, they cannot rely on their staff to continue to sacrifice their holidays to crew a third helicopter.

As a result, the primary request Stephan Bosman, Walter Russell and Kevin Pringle made in their verbal submission to the Health Select Committee was for NASO to make additional funding available to NRHL to employ what is called “surge capacity staff.” NRHL is of the view that the equivalent of two to four extra crew members will be sufficient.

That brings us to the future. The Health Select Committee has now opened the door for us to directly engage with all stakeholders about improved emergency care on the Coromandel. We are about to start the process to get everyone to meet together. One of the topics on the agenda will be additional funding to NRHL.

While that process is ongoing, we will continue to work with NRHL and the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (a 50 percent shareholder in NRHL), with whom we have always enjoyed a close friendship, to see what is required for NRHL to in any event go ahead and employ additional helicopter crew without a funding commitment from NASO. That may well involve an ongoing financial commitment from the Coromandel.

A financial commitment is nothing new. The people of the Coromandel have for more than a decade been extremely generous in their support of an air ambulance service.

We will keep you updated with regard to our negotiations. The petition was a resounding success and put the people of the Coromandel in the strongest position since the campaign to have a rescue helicopter returned to Whitianga started more than three years ago.

We would like to say a heartfelt thank you for all your support to date and we would like to ask you to remain generous. It is winter and there is no rescue helicopter in our hangar in Whitianga at the moment, but we are still being served by an outstanding air ambulance service. Your continued support will not only enable the service to continue to fly, but may well contribute to seeing sooner rather than later a rescue helicopter based back on the Coromandel when it is needed the most.

Signed - CRHT Trustees

Merv George (Chair - Whitianga)

Walter Russell (Founding Chair - Whitianga)

John Stephenson (Whitianga)

Jennie Turner (Tairua)

Doug Walters (Whangamata)

Andrea McCartney (Thames)

Nigel Strongman (Coromandel Town)

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