Ballarat to miss out on upgraded air ambulance

A $550 MILLION air ambulance upgrade will still bypass Ballarat, despite the long-awaited helipad’s October opening.

State Health Minister David Davis announced on Saturday that Ambulance Victoria would receive a new fleet of Agusta Westland AW-139 twin engine helicopters from January 2016.

The helicopters will still be based in their current locations of Essendon, the Latrobe Valley, Bendigo and Warrnambool.

However, Hospitals Emergency Landing Pad (HELP) founder Carole Simmons said the state government had always made it clear Ballarat would not receive its own dedicated helicopter.

“It would be lovely but we have to be realistic,” Ms Simmons said.

“Maybe we could get one in the future, but we can’t expect any more at this stage.”

Australian Helicopters has been awarded a 10-year contract to operate the fleet.

The current five helicopters will be replaced and a dedicated back-up aircraft provided to maintain services when heavy aircraft maintenance is required.

Mr Davis said the new air ambulances would be faster, bigger and able to travel greater distances without refuelling.

They will also have safety features including air traffic and terrain warning systems, the ability to transport two stretcher patients and increased infra-red and night vision capability.

“This means a significant improvement in times taken to transport the sickest patients from rural Victoria to major trauma centres,” Mr Davis said.

“The new aircraft will be able to fly time-critical patients to Melbourne from communities more than 250 kilometres away.”

Ambulance Victoria chief executive officer Greg Sassella said the fleet responded to 2283 emergency cases in 2012-13, transporting 1810 patients.

“Being able to replace our existing fleet with these helicopters with a standard fit-out and provided under the one contract will streamline training and operational processes for MICA flight paramedics, flight paramedic and crews,” Mr Sassella said.

The helipad, currently under construction, is part of a $46.4 million Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital expansion.

fiona.henderson@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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