Coffs needs a chopper doctor

By DAVID MOASE

Coast's hopes for a local Westpac Helicopter base were grounded last week and in order to regain flight, Dr Ron Manning is hunting for a 'unique animal'.

Dr Manning is the head of the Medical Retrieval Unit and in charge of organising medical teams to man rescue helicopters around NSW.

The animal he is chasing does not live on the African plains but nonetheless he has the passion of a big game hunter.

Dr Manning's prize targets are doctors with a sense of adventure who could help boost medical services in Coffs Harbour and the Mid North Coast.

Those doctors are among the key components needed if Coffs Harbour is to become a base for the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service by 2008.

A report into rescue helicopter services in NSW, which was released last week, grounded hopes of that base being established in 2005.

It did indicate, however, that the Coffs Harbour base should be set up by 2008, and possibly expanded as demand grows.

NSW Health Minister Morris Iemma has confirmed the intention is to base a helicopter on the Coffs Coast.

However, one of Dr Manning's biggest problems is the low number of suitable doctors at country hospitals and the fact those doctors already have full workloads without adding helicopter duties on top.

"If we impose on them more work with the helicopter service it can stretch them beyond capacity, compromising clinical services available at the hospital," he said.

"Paradoxically we are doing something good by bringing the helicopter service but at the same time we are causing them more problems."

He said there had been 'bitter experience' gained when helicopter rescue services were introduced to Orange and Tamworth in 2000, which 'inadvertently compromised the doctors' ability to provide services at their base hospitals'.

Plans were in place to develop strategies to get senior clinicians to rural areas and Dr Manning said he was in regular contact with the Coffs Harbour Health Campus and the Mid North Coast Area Health Service.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter general manager Perry Wells said despite the initial disappointment at last week's news, his organisation could also see plenty of positives.

"The report has identified, through the modelling that was done, that there is a need for a service based at Coffs Harbour," he said.

"That's more than we've ever had before, because while it's been identified that this is a black spot in the total network system throughout the State, it's the first time it's ever been acknowledged in that form of documentation.

"It's a step forward, although it may be a longer term than anticipated.

"It is certainly a step towards achieving the ultimate goal of basing a service in this area."



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