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The rubber hits the road for the Flying Doctor

The rubber hits the road for the Flying Doctor
Photo: The rubber hits the road for the Flying Doctor
The use of aircraft to deliver medical services coupled with the pedal radio and then the diversification from emergency retrievals into the delivery of a wide range of primary and allied healthcare services to remote, rural and regional communities are examples of the innovation that has become a hallmark of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). They have been delivering the finest care to the furthest corners of Australia for almost 90 years.

Now one of the world’s first and largest aeromedical services is launching a fleet of Patient Transfer road vehicles in regional and metropolitan areas of NSW to support the movement of non-emergency patients between medical facilities.  In the past year the RFDS’ South Eastern Section transported 8,500 patients. There are currently 261,734 people in the Western NSW Local Health District, which is the second most sparsely populated area in NSW .
The first Patient Transfer road vehicles, equipped just like RFDS aircraft, will be based in:  Bourke, Cobar, Dubbo, Lightning Ridge, Orange and Sydney (Bankstown airport), which will serve as a metropolitan hub. The vehicles are able to carry a wide variety of patient types and have compatible patient handling systems with RFDS fixed wing aircraft. The focus of the initial deployment is to support the Western NSW Local Health District centred on Dubbo.

“The launch of a road vehicle service adds to our traditional aeromedical operations as an extension to the services the Flying Doctor already offers to those living in remote, rural and regional areas,” said Greg Sam, Chief Executive Officer of the RFDS SE. 

“The Patient Transfer road vehicles will be based in the areas where most of our patient flow originates, but we can scale up the operation to include other locations, according to need,” he added.

The new Patient Transfer service offers many benefits;
  • Patients in regional NSW can be moved between health facilities in conjunction with Local Health Districts in order to offer closer, more cost effective specialised patient transfer;
  • The new service will enable the RFDS SE to offer a greater continuity of care for many patients between hospital and home. A non-emergency patient needing clinical care during a transfer will be attended by the same flight nurse from place of origin to final destination;
  • The timely repatriation of patients will also free up additional local and metropolitan hospital beds;
  • The use of common litters (stretchers) on the RFDS SE road vehicles and aircraft and the use of cutting-edge equipment, such as bariatric and special purpose litters, will ensure a more comfortable Patient Transfer experience for patients who can be moved between different modes of transport without changing litters;
  • RFDS SE Patient Transfer road vehicles, will be equipped like RFDS SE aircraft and crewed by its health professionals;
  • Transferring patients to/from hospital and right to their homes also has the social benefit of getting patients back to their families and communities more quickly.
“This is a big win for the bush. However, it’s important not just to see this as a one-off announcement, but to view it in the context of our 2015-19 strategic plan that will see the RFDS SE making a series of announcements about new and enhanced services during the next few months,” said Mr Sam.

“The principal aim of this plan is to reduce the well-documented gap in health and wellness between those living in remote, rural and regional areas and those in cities.”

“In the past year RFDS SE healthcare clinics reached almost 40,000 patients – another year-on-year increase. Our clinics are in high demand and we are continuing to review and plan our services and operations to ensure that we are able to treat more patients in the most effective way.”

The service profile and footprint of the RFDS SE is expanding by providing an increasing range of services, which are reaching more people and more communities. Having consolidated retrieval and emergency services capacity, the South Eastern Section has invested in and expanded additional primary care services from their Broken Hill, Dubbo and Moomba bases. They are working with local health services and other organisations to bridge gaps in clinical and patient transport services to improve access to care in remote, rural and regional locations.

“The communities we serve are at the heart of everything we do and partnerships are another innovative way the Flying Doctor funds vital new medical services,” said Mr Sam.

“The launch of the Patient Transport road service is a continuation of the long and mutually beneficial relationship we have enjoyed with the people of the Central West since we opened the Dubbo Base in 1999. By the end of the 2015/16 financial year the Dubbo Support Group will have raised over $2 million for the RFDS SE.”

“This includes $100,000 for the upgrade to the Dubbo Base medical centre, $150,000 to the purchase and medical fit-out of the Patient Transfer road vehicle to be based in Dubbo and $100,000 to the fit-outs of two other vehicles to be based in Bourke and Lightning Ridge.

“In recognition of this generous donation and the longstanding support they have given us over the past 16 years, “Proudly Donated by the Dubbo Support Group” will be detailed on the side the Dubbo vehicle. The kind assistance of the Lightning Ridge Support group will also be acknowledged in a similar manner on their vehicle.”

“Time may pass, technology may change, but the Flying Doctor will always be more than a service and a part of the communities it serves.” Added Mr Sam.

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