Gathering forces to fight for helicopter

The powerful Rotary movement has added muscle to the fight to save the Illawarra's only aeromedical helicopter for the sake of the community - and the man who fought so hard first time round.

The late Phil Buckland spent years campaigning for a regional rescue-helicopter service that would be on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"He [Buckland] generated a lot of community agitation, so we owe it to the community and we owe it to Phil to stop this from happening," Wollongong Rotary Club president Leigh Robinson said yesterday.

An independent Ernst & Young review says the government could save millions of dollars each year by moving the Albion Park-based helicopter to Sydney and cutting helicopters at other bases without "significantly affecting" response times to patients.

South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris declared the region would not take the news lying down.

Yesterday Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the service was vital and should be kept in the Illawarra.

"The demands for this service - retrieval and so on - are quite substantial," Cr Bradbery said.

"Wollongong is the base for the SES, so I consider us a hub for emergency services."

NSW Health said the report had been sent for comment to about 150 stakeholders, including the Ambulance Service of NSW, clinicians, a critical care taskforce, hospitals, unions and MPs.

The government will release its response to the review once the formal submission period closes this month.

Mr Leighton said the region's 111 Rotary clubs had thrown their support behind the campaign to keep the Illawarra service, and were now meeting with councils to shore up support.

"I'll be getting out to as many community organisations as we can," he said.

"Once a service such as this is removed, it's extremely difficult to get it back. The time for a concerted action to retain the service is now."

Mr Rorris said the service had saved hundreds of lives since the region was "finally given a 24/7 chopper with doctors on board" in 2008.

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