AFTER at least 11 years of lobbying and 30,000 signatures, Orange’s 24-hour emergency helicopter service is finally ready for take-off.
About $2.5 million in annual funding from the state government means from January, patients can be airlifted to Sydney or Orange hospital at any time.
It also means doctors and paramedics will be on call, improving time to take off, there will be an extra full-time doctor and a part-time doctor, and two paramedics dedicated to helicopter retrieval.
And Orange will get a new helicopter.
The extra staff means the advanced ambulance, which has equipment to deal with trauma patients and operates from the helicopter base, can also be used 24 hours a day.
Orange Health Service director of intensive care Dr John Lambert said the development was particularly important because, in most cases, the ambulance can arrive more quickly than the helicopter.
“Especially places like Blayney and Molong,” he said.
“We already have the advanced ambulance, but it can’t be used 24 hours a day because we don’t have the staff.”
Member for Orange Andrew Gee said it had been a frustrating fight, but one worth the effort.
He said under the aeromedical reforms announced by the state government, services across the state would be streamlined, which meant Orange would get a bigger, better helicopter.
“The one now is too small, it can’t lift off under a full-load capacity and the tenders for the new service will go out towards the end of the year,” Mr Gee said.
“The current model is doomed, we’ll be seeing the end of it.”
The helicopter has a range of about 300 kilometres before it needs to be refuelled and can be used anywhere across the state, but will be based in Orange.
CENTROC chair and mayor of Parkes Ken Keith said it had been a long time coming and many people did not think it would ever happen.
But, he was glad the people in outlying towns and villages would benefit.
In 2011, Mr Gee presented a petition to Parliament, instigated by Orange councillor Glenn Taylor and backed by the Central Western Daily, with 30,000 signatures calling on the government to fund a 24-hour retrieval service.
Mr Gee said by 2018 the plan was to have staff sleeping at the base.
He expected the number of people needing the service to increase beyond a minimum of 50 per year and therefore there would be no risk of losing it.
“If you build it they will come.”