AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE
Mr GERARD MARTIN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Will the Minister update the House on the New South Wales Air Ambulance Service, which provides a vital link in health service provision in rural and regional areas?
The SPEAKER: Order! I call the member for Lismore to order. I call the member for Coffs Harbour to order. I call the member for Epping to order. If members continue to interject I will not hesitate to remove them from the Chamber.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT: I thank the member for Bathurst for his question. He is a strong advocate for rural and regional New South Wales and I know that he, along with many other members in this House, has been very interested in this issue and will be very keen to hear the update on this important service. There is no doubt that the New South Wales Air Ambulance Service provides a vital medical link to rural and remote communities. Every year more than 5,000 patients are flown from rural and remote hospitals to specialist hospitals in major centres. The Air Ambulance Service covers a vast geographic area from Brisbane to Melbourne and from east of the Darling River to Lord Howe Island.
There is no doubt that the skills of the highly trained ambulance flight nurses have saved countless lives throughout the 40 years this service has been in operation. Today I had a chance to meet two ambulance flight nurses, Margaret and Elisabeth, and to talk to them about the challenges they face in their job every day as they provide support and care to people in rural and regional New South Wales. During those 40 years different aviation companies and airlines have held a number of commercial contracts for the provision of aircraft, pilots and engineers. Seven years ago, in a competitive tender, the contract was won by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which has been providing the service since that time.
The current contract expires in December 2011 and the Ambulance Service issued a tender to the market for a period of 10 years from 2012, again for aviation services only: pilots, engineers and aircraft. I am pleased to advise the House that the Royal Flying Doctor Service has once again been successful as the preferred tenderer for this service and a contract was signed on Monday 30 November. The services associated with this contract will commence from January 2012. This is very good news for the Air Ambulance Service and the Royal Flying Doctor Service because it means that the partnership that we have developed over the past seven years can continue and it means that rural and regional patients, through the services provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, may have access to specialised health services that are available only in larger centres.
The SPEAKER: Order! Members will come to order, including the member for Bathurst and the member for Murrumbidgee.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT: The Royal Flying Doctor Service is an Australian icon and its contribution to the health of rural and remote communities is well known, dating back to the 1920s. This 10-year contract will give both certainty and a solid foundation for the continued excellent work of the aeromedical service. The medical crew, the call taking, the flight planning and dispatch functions continue to be provided by the New South Wales Ambulance Service. The fixed wing service forms part of the State's aeromedical network, which also comprises helicopters and specialised road retrieval ambulances.
The extensive evaluation of tenders not only looked at the issue of price but also at issues such as quality, management, safety, implementation plans and experience. This decision was based on the best and final offers submitted to the State Contracts Control Board by the Tender Evaluation Committee. The evaluation committee comprised representatives from ambulance, health, commerce and the Rural Fire Service and an aviation consultant. In more good news for the ambulance aeromedical service and for rural and regional New South Wales I am pleased to inform the House that there will be an expansion to the fixed-wing fleet. From 2012 the number of fixed-wing aircraft operating for the Ambulance Service will increase from four aircraft to five to meet the growing demand in patient numbers.
The aircraft utilised are the latest King Air 200 aircraft, which will be fitted with state-of-the-art safety devices such as traffic avoidance systems and infrared technology to assist with night-time operations. I am pleased to announce that two of the five new aircraft will be the larger King Air 350 model. These aircraft have greater payload capacity and range, which means that the Air Ambulance Service will be in a position to transport high acuity, complex medical patients who require additional highly specialised medical equipment and personnel. It will also mean that the air ambulance can fly obese patients. Many obese patients, because of their weight, previously have had to be transported by road.
The additional resources and a mix of small and large aircraft will allow greater flexibility and will place the Ambulance Service in a good position to meet the demands of the future. The air ambulance has a long and proud history of providing services to the communities of New South Wales. I take this opportunity to commend all those people whose dedication and professionalism benefit thousands of patients across New South Wales every year. I thank the Royal Flying Doctor Service for continuing the partnership. I look forward to this new contract taking effect and providing these important services to the people in rural and regional New South Wales.