Coffs on track for chopper in 2008

By BELINDA F SCOTT

COFFS Harbour is still on track to have its own rescue helicopter in 2008 and Northern Region Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service (NRRHS) executives are 'absolutely' confident that they are about to sign a contract to take them on to the next 10 years.

In the wake of Friday's announcement that a private operator has won the tender to run helicopter rescue services currently operated in Sydney, Wollongong and Orange by non-profit organisations NRMA Careflight and Westpac Life Saver Surf Rescue, there have been concerns that this may a future omen for the North Coast's non-profit helicopter rescue service.

But yesterday the chairman and the general manager of the Northern Region Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service, Warren Tozer and Perry Wells, said bad news for the southern services was good news for the North Coast and Newcastle services, and especially for Coffs Harbour.

They said the decision was based on implementing the 2005 Vickery Report into aeromedical services, which had endorsed the present North Coast service and its future direction, including recommending that Coffs Harbour have its own helicopter in 2008.

Mr Tozer said he expected the new contract would 'hit the deck' in the next week or so and NSW Ambulance Service chief executive Greg Rochford had indicated on Friday he would not ask them to go to tender, but would simply grant the Northern helicopter service a new secure health contract for 10 years.

General manager Perry Wells said the North Coast service operated under a very different model to the three Sydney and southern services and had always used doctors and nurses tasked from the region's existing ambulance and hospitals, rather than having its own separate teams. He said it was important to stress that the introduction of the new Coffs Harbour service still depended on the community maintaining, and even increasing, its support.



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