Ambos, hospital bulk up ahead of winter


Queenstown health services are bracing for what looms as a record ski season.

St John Ambulance has doubled its Queenstown winter team from four to eight.

This season it will permanently station two new four-wheel drive vehicles at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables ski fields – ahead of predictions of a 30 per cent increase in numbers if the snow is good.

The cash-strapped Southern District Health Board is also considering taking on extra staff at Lakes District Hospital, particularly for radiology and administration.

Anticipation for winter has built with news of extra international flights to Queenstown, a new base building at The Remarkables and a relatively cold and wet May. And Monday’s snow.

Ski field operator NZSki’s chief executive Paul Anderson says if there is good snow and both its Queenstown mountains open on time “we would forecast a record year”.

Coronet Peak is scheduled to open on June 13 and The Remarkables a week later.

An increase in skiers and boarders will inevitably mean more injuries – a prospect which worries the health board.

Anderson says: “They [SDHB] have expressed concerns that if we don’t deal well with our guest injuries on the mountain then they will be smashed – but we’re doing our absolute best to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

In 2013, taxpayer-funded ACC shelled out $18.5 million for skiing and snowboarding injuries.

This year NZSki has outsourced medical services at its Queenstown fields to Australian company Medical Rescue – with a doctor, nurse and physiotherapist on-hand at all times.

“It is a big ticket item,” Anderson says.

“We’re prepared to make the investment to make sure our guests get the right primary care on the mountain.”

SDHB patient services manager Lexie O’Shea spoke to Anderson about the coming season and says the board is preparing for more attendances at Lakes District Hospital.

Extra temporary staff will be brought in, she says, although the number will be “very few”. Decisions should be made within a fortnight.

The board is projecting a deficit for the 2015/2016 year of $42m. Budget cuts are being considered.

St John Queenstown station manager Keith Raymond says the local ski areas are predicting a 30 per cent increase in numbers if the snow is good.

St John’s eight extra winter contract staff, from all over New Zealand, start on June 15.

Raymond says: “We’re gearing up for a long and potentially busy winter.”

St John responded to 451 snow sports injuries in the Queenstown Lakes last year – about the same number as 2013.

Anderson described those two years as “pretty average” in Queenstown, adding: ”We’re due a big one.”

Earlier this year, Air New Zealand and Jetstar announced increased services to Queenstown.

At the height of winter, Queenstown Airport expects almost 60 trans-Tasman flights a week – a new record.

Otago Daily Times