THE chair of CareFlight has accused health bureaucrats of interfering in the tender process which led to the State Government awarding the contract for its helicopter rescue operation to a private company.
Last week Health Minister John Hatzistergos announced the Australian arm of the Canadian Helicopter Corporation (CHC) had won the contract for the medical rescue service, ending CareFlight's Orange contract which is due to expire in April.
CareFlight has warned that residents of rural and regional NSW could be left without emergency trauma and retrieval services after 41 CareFlight specialist doctors unanimously voted not to fly on the Canadian choppers because of safety concerns.
CareFlight chair Ian Badham said his medical teams held grave concerns for their safety and that of their passengers.
"We operate as an integrated unit," he said at a press conference in Orange.
"Having an air provider separate to the medical provider could lead to a breakdown of safety."
But CHC said the claims were nonsense.
Executive director of CHC Helicopters Australia, Chris Ridings, said the company had an exemplary safety record.
Mr Badham said the decision did not make any financial, operational or medical sense and was borne of the government's desire for control over the rescue service.
"They're that petty: this is about the petty egos of a few faceless bureaucrats," he said.
"It would appear that there are some health bureaucrats who are resentful of this service."
Mr Badham refused to name the bureaucrats but said he was aware of who they were.
CareFlight's medical chair Dr Alan Garner said the decision to award the contract to CHC would spell disaster for rural NSW.
"If the CareFlight model disappears, the doctors are going to go with it," he said.
"They'll have a lovely shiny aircraft sitting here with no-one in the back seat."
A spokesman for Health Minister Hatzistergos said CHC could phase in the required helicopter fleet by December 2008 and begin an interim service with longer range, bigger capacity helicopters 13 months earlier than any of its competitors.
CareFlight is considering a legal action challenge to the State Government's decision.
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