Aeromedical services like RFDS get $52.8m boost for coronavirus response


April 20, 2020 14:28:04

A federal funding boost to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and other aeromedical services will see the capacity for rural and remote medical evacuations increase by 50 per cent.

Key points:

  • Funds will allow aeromedical services to evaluate and evacuate COVID-19 cases from rural and remote areas
  • The services will be funded to deliver fly-in GP respiratory clinics in the event of a broader outbreak
  • Rural and remote areas will receive airlifts of personal protective equipment for frontline medical staff as required

The services, which also include CareFlight and LifeFlight, will share in $52.8 million to evacuate COVID-19 patients to larger medical centres and also fly in medical workers and equipment to staff respiratory clinics.

Federal Minister for Regional Health Mark Coulton made the announcement today at the RFDS base in Dubbo, New South Wales.

“This package will increase the capacity to evacuate early COVID-19 cases in remote areas and enable a more effective response if an outbreak occurs,” he said.

The funding will allow aeromedical services to evaluate initial and suspected coronavirus cases, deliver fly-in GP respiratory clinics in the case of a broader outbreak, and supply and replenish personal protective equipment for frontline medical staff.

But Mr Coulton said not every rural and remote COVID-19 patient could expect to be evacuated to a larger centre.

“Some of the regional hospitals in the larger towns have set up for that … but obviously in some of the smaller communities, where there’s no capacity for intensive care or not a large number of chronic-care beds, then it makes sense to evacuate those people who are unwell.

“But likewise, if we have a community-wide outbreak, we do have the capacity … to deploy services into that community.”

Meanwhile, RFDS Queensland chief executive Meredith Staib welcomed the funding announcement.

“We’ve been known for 92 years to be servicing people living in rural and remote areas, so we’re perfectly placed to do that, and we’re very grateful to have the funding to do that.”

She said the Queensland service would move into a planning phase to identify needs in rural and remote areas.

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“We’ll see where there are already existing services and how they relate to where we currently go as well, and identify those areas in collaboration with other health providers that don’t have a service or need an enhancement.”

RFDS Queensland is advertising for pilots to add to its 70-strong cohort in the state.

“We’ve had significant interest … we require pilots that are quite experienced and have a number of hours to meet our requirements and on a particular type of aircraft, so it is fairly specialised,” Ms Staib said.

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