Westpac rescue helicopter could reach patients faster under paramedic model, comparison shows

New details: A Westpac rescue report shows advantages in 'cost, efficiency and time to patient' under a state-based staffing model.
New details: A Westpac rescue report shows advantages in 'cost, efficiency and time to patient' under a state-based staffing model.

THE Westpac rescue helicopter could reach patients faster if paramedics crewed all flights, a report that compared aeromedical staffing models shows. 

The Westpac rescue report, obtained by the Newcastle Herald, compared the Belmont chopper’s inter-hospital patient transfers between March and October under both John Hunter Hospital’s preferred model and the “state model” paramedics are pushing for

The comparison found “significant advantages” in “cost, efficiency and time to patient” under the state model.

In the 95 patient transfers over the eight months, patients who were to be transferred to John Hunter could have been reached a median 46 minutes earlier using a paramedic crew. 

The median “time saving” for each patient being flown from John Hunter with a paramedic crew would have been 25 minutes, the report shows.  

According to the report, efficiencies could be achieved if the helicopter was able to fly directly to and from its Belmont base.

The current model means the helicopter flies to John Hunter to pick up the doctor and nurse team before flying to the patient. 

The paramedics’ union claims John Hunter’s model is “unnecessary duplication” that costs time when the helicopter is tasked to emergencies. However, hospital management – backed by the nurses’ union – argues its model provides a higher standard of care for critical patients

The analysis assumed both models provided “the required level of medical efficacy and as such either one could be safely used in Newcastle”. 

Significantly, the report noted the state model would give the helicopter a window to divert to emergencies if required to mid-mission. The current model means the helicopter needs to change equipment and crew.

Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said the state model would give the Newcastle service “flexibility” in both types of missions. 

“The professional integrity and care provided by the John Hunter ICU nurses is not being questioned,” he said. “What is being questioned is the lack of flexibility caused by operating a dual model helicopter retrieval service where a doctor/nurse complete secondary missions and a separate doctor and paramedic respond to primary missions.”

However, NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association John Hunter branch president Clare Bolton said the skill set of nurses in a health district with “complex” medical needs was “invaluable”.

“We’ve got the skills, we’ve got the knowledge and we’ve got a model that is the best fit for this region,” she said. “Having this model is not a disadvantage. It is an advantage for the patient.”

Ms Bolton said the health district's size, scattered population centres and increasingly ageing population meant it was “unique” from the rest of the state.

She said John Hunter was a busy referral hospital and the only major trauma centre in the health district.

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