Chopper cutbacks risking lives

THE long-term unavailability of Bundaberg’s twin-engine rescue helicopter and impending cutbacks to the service’s staff is putting lives at risk, according to a former paramedic.

Pat Denham, the former Bundaberg Queensland Ambulance Service officer-in-charge, claimed the AGL Action Rescue Helicopter service’s twin-engine BK117 aircraft — which can transport patients at night — had been out of action due to servicing needs for more than six months.

This means choppers must be despatched from Maroochydore or Brisbane during night-time emergencies.

“It takes about an hour for a chopper to come from Maroochydore to service this area,” Mr Denham said.

“The Bundaberg chopper can get to any point in its service area in half the time. That’s someone’s life. That’s why I’m coming forward.”

The chopper should be back on Dec 23, but Mr Denham still has concerns.

The news comes as AGL chief executive officer Rob Walford confirmed a pilot and crewperson would be cut back from Bundy base next year.

“We’re restructuring our whole service to make it more efficient, we’re planning to downsize in Bundaberg, reducing the pilot contingent by one and the crewman by one,” Mr Walford said.

“We regret financial circumstances have required the service to do this.”

The CEO said the changes would not affect the 24-hour nature of the Bundaberg service.

The Bundaberg base services Fraser Coast, the North Burnett and Agnes Water regions.

“The people of this area are getting a sub-standard service,” Mr Denham said.

But Mr Walford has hit back at the claims of the former paramedic, and said the Bundaberg service was operating within it budgetary constraints and the agreement the AGL chopper service has with the Queensland Government.

He also said that from January 2008 to December this year the Bundaberg base had been without the twin-engine chopper for six months.

He said that for the last four years, despite substantial contributions from local councils, businesses and community groups, the AGL chopper service had been subsidising the base by more than $500,000 per year.

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