Rescue heli funding up in the air

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Lakes District Air Rescue Trust is flying on funding fumes.

The lower South Island’s helicopter rescue service recorded a surplus of just $15,000 last
financial year on a turnover of $2.3 million.

While the trust has cash reserves and community support, its annual fixed funding from the
government and ACC is not enough.

It had to go cap-in-hand to the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO) to cover a $263,000 shortfall last year.

NASO, the joint Ministry of Health and ACC funding body, is responsible for three-quarters
of LDART’s call-outs.

But the trust is locked into a five-year contract based on a set number of hours, which didn’t anticipate the tourism boom.

“It’s been a bloody disaster for us,” LDART chairman Jules Tapper says.

“Once you get a certain level of activity with ACC and Ministry work, your reserves just fly
out the door. Thank Christ we had some because we really ate into them quite severely until
we got that extra funding from government.”

Tapper’s hoping the industry can negotiate a greater contribution from NASO for the next
contract. The 2013 contract is based on flying 314 hours for them, which includes emergency calls and air ambulance work.

But last financial year it flew 520 hours for NASO, from a total of 683 hours.

The NASO contract ends in March next year, although on-going negotiations mean a new deal might not be in place until November.

Ministry of Health Director of Service Commissioning Jill Lane says: “We are currently in the
co-design phase, working closely with key stakeholders.

“The demand for air ambulance services has been rising and is predicted to continue rising.

“The National Ambulance Sector Office and the sector recognise that the existing operating
model is not sustainable.

“That’s why NASO, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, ACC and DHBs is leading a major
rethink.”

Lane says the aim is to develop a service that is “people-centred, clinically appropriate,
integrated, nationally consistent, coordinated and sustainable to contribute to improved
patient outcomes (for both emergency and inter hospital transport services)”.

She says they’re also exploring how “greater efficiencies” can be achieved.

Other LDART missions are dispatched and paid for by police and locator beacon operator
RCC.

The total number of hours flown has more than doubled in five years, up from 252 hours.

“We’re not in difficulty but it’s an ongoing battle,” Tapper says.

“If the work continues at the current growth rate, we’ve got to be sure of our funding.”

The service, which covers most of the lower South Island from bases in Queenstown and Te
Anau, has never been fully-funded by agencies.

The community raised $220,000 last financial year, including Lotteries funding, a $25,000
grant from Queenstown’s council and $70,000 from Westpac customers through the bank’s
appeal.

Tapper says the trust runs a lean operation, without its own machines or other overheads.
It has access to five helicopters operated by Heliworks Queenstown and Southern Lakes Helicopters, both owned by Sir Richard ‘Hannibal’ Hayes. It contracts in paramedics, doctors,
heli-firefighters and Alpine Cliff Rescue crews.

Tapper says a tourism tax would help trusts like LDART which cover large expanses of land
where no one lives.

‘It’s not like Auckland where you have a huge population base and business to draw
sponsorship from for two choppers doing average trips of 50 nautical miles.”

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz