The fight to keep the rescue chopper in the Illawarra has been won.
In a major victory for the region, Kiama MP Gareth Ward yesterday told the Mercury NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner had confirmed the vital aeromedical service would remain based at Albion Park.
The formal NSW government response to the NSW Aeromedical (Rotary Wing) Retrieval Services Final Report will be released next month but Mr Ward said the recommendation to move the service to Sydney had been rejected.
The good news comes just days after Mr Ward tabled in Parliament a 12,000-strong petition calling on the NSW government to keep the chopper in the region.
Mr Ward said it was a great victory for the Illawarra after a strong community-led campaign.
"I raised this issue directly with the Health Minister on numerous occasions and I am absolutely delighted to make this announcement," he said.
"I started the petition because no-one could convince me that moving a service from the Illawarra to Sydney would provide our community with a more effective service.
"This service saves lives. I am so thankful that Jillian Skinner has listened to our concerns and acted accordingly.
"I will always fight to improve our local health and emergency services in our region and I'm delighted that our fight has been successful."
Figures obtained by the Mercury under freedom of information legislation last month showed just how vital the service is to the region. They showed the rescue helicopter had carried out more than 400 missions in three years, including 270 inter-hospital missions and 150 pre-hospital missions.
Missions were mainly conducted in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and South Coast, although there were some as far afield as the Blue Mountains, Canberra and Thredbo.
Mr Ward said because it had been tabled, the petition was still up for debate on August 15, although he was now planning a victory speech for that day.
He said a number of people had helped lead the campaign to retain the service at Albion Park, including South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris and Rotary Club of Wollongong president Leigh Robinson.
Mr Robinson yesterday welcomed the announcement that the service would not be relocated.
"It is a fine example of community effort being able to achieve a positive outcome," he said.
"It was due to the wholehearted response of the Illawarra community that we were able to gather such a large volume of signatures that I hope helped persuade the Minister for Health in making her decision."
The independent Ernst & Young review which came to light in January claimed the government could save millions of dollars each year by moving the Illawarra aircraft to Sydney.
It's believed the government had also been considering moving the base to Nowra.