Jun 18, 2020In The Community

Doctors Given Extra Wings to Fight COVID Crisis

The health of regional and remote communities relies on medical professionals who are willing to take to the skies to overcome Australia’s tyranny of distance. This year, they have become more important than ever.

Organisations like the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and the Surat-Gas Aero-Medical Service (SGAS) are indispensable to the communities the natural gas industry partners with. These fast-moving health care workers connect remote communities with vital emergency and general healthcare services.

As the COVID-19 crisis evolved, these organisations kicked into high gear. Preparing to combat the pandemic with no way to predict the outcome, Australia’s airborne doctors were ready to help in any way they could.

In Far East Gippsland, a community already grappling with the devastation of drought and fire, the threat of the pandemic loomed large. For the RFDS, this meant radically changing the way services were provided.

With the support of Cooper Energy, the RFDS were able to rapidly escalate COVID testing capabilities in Orbost. In nearby Robindale, crews partnered with local health services to conduct a five-day COVID testing blitz, ensuring essential workers and at-risk members of the community were safe. Their partnership with Cooper Energy enabled 129 mental health appointments and increased available telehealth appointments while decreasing wait times.

As the pandemic evolves, Cooper Energy’s support will continue to provide vital services and connection to the RFDS and the people they help. An RFDS spokesperson thanked the company for their role in crucial initiatives in Far East Gippsland.

“Thanks to Cooper Energy we were able to focus on crucial initiatives in Far East Gippsland based on the needs of the community… As the health, social and economic impacts of COVID continue to unfold, as well as the delayed emotional impacts of the bushfires, we were able to reach more patients than ever in the region”.

Long before the fight against COVID-19, SGAS helicopters were at the ready for emergency response 24 hours a day over 270,000 square kilometres of southern Queensland. Since 2011, SGAS has provided its vital service to the 210,000 Queenslanders in the area with two medically configured helicopters, stationed at LifeFlight’s Toowoomba and Roma bases. In 2017, they were upgraded to state-of-the-art AgustWestland AW139 Machines.

Amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arrow Energy, Origin Energy, Santos and Shell QGC last week announced a collective funding extension for SGAS that will see the SGAS service extended to 2025.

The extension will ensure gas company workers and the general community alike have aeromedical coverage across a huge area that was previously with its own, dedicated service.

Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham congratulated the ongoing support effort for the SGAS initiative.

“The CSG-LNG industry continues to deliver thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in business to Queenslanders here in the south-west.” He said.

“The ongoing support for LifeFlight means an integrated aviation and medical team are permanently on-call to provide round-the-clock emergency care for industry and communities.

“As a trauma surgeon, I know how much difference a rapid response service makes in emergency situations in remote areas.”