Leaders vow to save chopper service

The deadline for submissions to the state government on a proposal to move the Illawarra's aeromedical helicopter to Sydney passed yesterday but the fight to save it is far from over.

South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said he is still keen to meet with Health Minister Jillian Skinner to argue the case for keeping the Albion Park-based helicopter service.

"The reality with this issue is it won't be resolved with submissions, but with political will," he said.

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

Since news of the report broke in January, community leaders including Kiama MP Gareth Ward, Keira MP Ryan Park, Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, Wollongong MP Noreen Hay and the region's Rotary groups are all backing the fight to keep the helicopter in the region.

Mr Rorris said the consultant's report makes many of the same arguments heard years ago when the region was agitating for a local helicopter service.

"There's 400 people who use it each year, that's more than one per day," he said.

"They've said no time would be lost or patients would suffer travelling an extra 80 kilometres from Sydney. No-one's buying that one.

"Consultants don't make decisions, governments do and we're asking for a meeting with the government on this question."

A spokeswoman for Ms Skinner said yesterday: "We have not received a meeting request from the South Coast Labour Council however they are welcome to put forward a request and it will be followed up."

Mr Ward said he had spoken to Ms Skinner on behalf of the Labour Council, however, she wanted to review the submissions before she met with community groups.

Mr Ward has also collected thousands of signatures, which he has progressively been tabling each day in State Parliament to keep the issue under the noses of the government.

"I've raised the issue with the minister several times and I've made my views well known," he said.

"No-one will convince me that moving the helicopter service to Parramatta will provide a better service for the Illawarra.

Mr Ward said the government would now consider the submissions before making a decision.

The NSW ambulance rescue helicopter. Picture: DAVID HALL

The NSW ambulance rescue helicopter. Picture: DAVID HALL


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