CHOPPER SERVICE UNDER THREAT
By ALEX EASTON
THE future of Lismore's rescue helicopter is in peril because the city's hospital hasn't enough physicians qualified to work with the service, doctors have warned.
A leaked memo from Lismore Base Hospital emergency department director Dr Martin Chase warns the hospital no longer had enough doctors qualified to perform retrievals with the helicopter.
As a result 'there may be occasions over the next few months when the Lismore-based medical retrieval service will be unable to provide an urgent medical retrieval service', Dr Chase says in the memo, which was sent out last month.
The medical retrieval service provides specially-qualified emergency doctors to travel with the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter in some emergency situations.
Dr Chase says in the memo 'steps are being taken to improve' the number of helicopter-qualified doctors at the hospital.
However, Lismore Base Hospital Medical Staff Council spokesman Dr Chris Ingall said the hospital's ability to attract highly-qualified emergency doctors had been eroded by poor working conditions.
"The (working) conditions in the emergency department are execrable," Dr Ingall said.
The department lacked the resources to attract and keep the level of medical staff the hospital needed.
"It goes back to bed block (overcrowding) and the physical nature of working in that emergency department."
A spokesperson for the area health service said the hospital had been trying for about six months to recruit new emergency doctors qualified to work with the helicopter, but denied the struggle was related to working conditions in the emergency department.
"There is a nationwide shortage of emergency medicine specialists," the spokesperson said. "This is the main reason for the recruitment difficulty.
He said Lismore Base Hospital was not the only hospital having difficulty recruiting emergency medicine specialists.
Dr Ingall agreed the main relief for that situation would come with stage three of the hospital redevelopment, 'but there's no pressure on stage three'.
The health service spokesperson said the service was continuing talks with the Health Department about stage three.
The danger Lismore faced was that if it continued to lose helicopter-qualified emergency doctors, the helicopter could be forced to divert to Coffs Harbour or Tweed Heads to pick up a doctor before going to an accident scene.
That would strengthen Coffs Harbour's case for its own helicopter base, and for the resources presently tied up at Lismore to be sent south.
"There's already pressure from Coffs to take our helicopter, and this is the sort of thing that will strengthen their case," Dr Ingall said.
"It will go where the specialists are."