Helicopter rescue service fears tender process

THE WESTPAC Rescue Helicopter organisation is concerned it will lose a tender to provide aerial medical service for the Clarence Valley.

The State Government on Wednesday put the contract to provide the service out to tender after a report from multinational accountancy firm Ernst and Young.

Kris Beavis, the Northern NSW Westpac chopper chief, said the report failed to see how good the current system was.

"The Ernst and Young report is predicated on the assumption there is a broken model in Northern NSW," Mr Beavis said.

It is an assumption with which Mr Beavis strongly disagrees.

He said the model the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service relies on is based around strong links to the community and the donations which flow from those links.

Under the changes the State Government are due to introduce in December, the Northern NSW aero-medical service will have to come from either a conglomerate of existing, not-for-profit providers such as Careflight and Westpac, or a company from the private sector.

This is because the tender the State Government has called for asks for one provider for all of Northern NSW and one provider for all of Southern NSW.

Mr Beavis said a similar tender process had awarded a contract for aero-medical services to a private company in Sydney.

He said the experience there was private sector companies operate at a higher cost to the taxpayer and without donations from the community.

In terms of why not-for-profit organisations lost the tender, Mr Beavis said the private sector offered up a chopper with great appeal to the ambulance service.

"The other problem is we're simply not financially geared to tender for the entire Northern NSW area," he said.

A spokeswoman from the Health Minister Jillian Skinner's office said it was important people were aware, regardless of the tender's outcome, there would still be an air ambulance helicopter.

Both the people from the chopper and Mrs Skinner's office welcomed an extra $2.2 million worth of training money for extra aero-medical paramedics and doctors which was independent of the tender process.

Mr Beavis stressed the money was positive but it wouldn't go to the chopper because they provide the helicopter and pilots, not the doctors and paramedics.