Chopper battle revs up

WOLLONGONG ADVERTISER

Illawarra residents are being urged to get behind the region’s emergency medical helicopter service and send a strong message to the government to keep the chopper here.

Submissions on the NSW government’s independent review of aeromedical services, conducted by Ernst and Young, close tomorrow.

The review has suggested the government move the NSW Ambulance Service’s Albion Park Rail-based helicopter to Sydney as part of a move that could save millions without ‘‘significantly affecting’’ patient response times.

The combined Rotary Clubs of the Illawarra, led by the Wollongong club, have started a community campaign to keep the helicopter in the region and have the support of the South Coast Labour Council and local MPs, including Ryan Park (Keira), Anna Watson (Shellharbour) and Gareth Ward (Kiama), and Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery.

Mr Ward has written a petition calling on the government to reject the review’s recommendation and retain the chopper at Albion Park Rail to ensure a speedy response to medical emergencies. He has shared the petition with his constituents and has been tabling petition signatures in Parliament each day.

Rotary Club of Wollongong president Leigh Robinson has also circulated the petition among 100contacts and he encouraged Illawarra residents to sign it and lobby MPs.

He said keeping the rescue helicopter here was critically important because lives would be at risk if it was moved to Sydney.

‘‘We need 10,000signatures to go on the floor of Parliament to have it debated ... it’s a pretty tall ask.’’

Residents can also show their support on Facebook ‘‘Save the Illawarra Helicopter Service’’  and on Twitter ‘‘Save the Chopper@PresWol longong’’.

Mr Ward said the government received hundreds of reports a year and thousands of recommendations but that didn’t mean it had to agree with them all.

‘‘It’s nice for the union members and others to get upset but nothing’s changed yet,’’ he said.

He had raised the issue with Health Minister Jillian Skinner and told her the helicopter service should remain in the Illawarra.

‘‘I don’t accept that placing a service in Parramatta is going to make the Illawarra’s servicing for aeromedical better,’’ he said.

Mr Park, who had sent his own submission to Mrs Skinner and asked questions in Parliament, said it was crucial to retain the chopper service.

‘‘We are a community bound by an escarpment, cliff walls. We have an ocean, heavy industry and our population swells over summer months,’’ he said.

‘‘All those factors mean we need this service – a service fought for and established by the community some years ago.’’

For a copy of the petition, email president@wollongongrotary.org.au or call 1300 768 180

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