As the NSW government looks to contain spending on helicopter rescue services in a program that includes a reduction in the number of aircraft from 15 to 12, the state’s health minister Jillian Skinner has come under fire for a proposed ‘mega base’ for emergency helicopter services in Sydney.
The cost of the base, which is said to include four hangars, a 720m2 office complex, underwater training facility and accommodation at the former Sydney Speedway site near Parramatta in Sydney’s west, has reportedly blown out by more than $20 million over its original $30 million estimate. The budget over-run has caused the health minister to suspend further development of the concept, which will now be included in the state’s wider review of emergency helicopter services.
The possible base at Parramatta would see the closure of similar disparate facilities at Bankstown Airport.
Already the NSW government has caused derision among rescue helicopter operators, in November announcing long-serving Telstra Child Flight would be replaced by CareFlight for newborn and paediatric emergency transport services. In early January the government announced Canberra-based Snowy Hydro SouthCare could lose its existing contract with the state as NSW goes to market for an operator for an expanded region that covers the whole of the southern half of the state. Currently SouthCare operates about two-thirds of missions in the southern and Murrumbidgee districts of NSW.
The proposals form components of a report by Ernst & Young, which has been commissioned by the NSW government to review emergency helicopter services in the state. Among other proposals are reducing the number of aeromedical regions from five to two; closure of the Wollongong base and relocating it to the new base at Parramatta; and increasing the hours of operation and staffing levels at Newcastle, Tamworth and Orange.
The draft report says the changes stand to deliver approximately $6.7 million in annual savings, while noting the government will need to source an additional $7.3 million a year by 2020 to sustain aeromedical services.
Formal submissions to the government are due to close in February after which the NSW government says it will release its response.