Rescue helicopter service secure as ECT renews funding

DATE 11 September 2017    

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Eastland Community Trust has renewed its sponsorship of the region’s rescue helicopter, agreeing to fund the service to the tune of $1.75 million over the next five years.

ECT has been the naming rights sponsor since 2012 when it signed an initial five-year contract. That contract was due to expire at the end of September and CEO Gavin Murphy says the renewal was a “no-brainer” for Trustees.

Since the Trust first chose to support the chopper, rescues have increased by almost 50%, with more than 150 missions flown in the last 12 months. The service’s latest projections show that demand set to increase over the coming years.

Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust chairman Patrick Willock says the Trust is delighted with the decision and admits it would have been tough to get by without ECT’s continued sponsorship.

“We’re not arguing the merit of government funding, right around the country helicopters are funded by their communities.  Without ECT’s support, this region would not be serviced by a rescue helicopter. Our operating costs are around $700,000 per annum, much of that we must fund publicly. ECT’s $350,000 per annum makes a significant impact - enabling us to confidently deliver the 24/7 standby emergency response service so desperately needed by the community.”

Mr Willock says its growth quantifies the need for the service.

“We are responding to three times as many incidents than we did ten years ago. Our data suggest that growth will continue in our primary response areas, particularly those linked to the delivery of critical healthcare to our remote communities.  But, in the last five years, our operational costs have steadily increased by $100,000.”

Mr Murphy says trustees were aware that by the very nature of living on the East Coast we could not afford to be without the ECT Rescue Helicopter.

“Our chopper supports the equity of access to health care. The service spends up to 50% of its time responding to accident and medical emergencies in rural communities. It increasingly connects those living in our remote townships with emergency health care not available in their community,” Mr Murphy says.

This includes delivering patients to Gisborne Hospital and, in acute cases, directly to Waikato and Middlemore Hospitals.

“It is arguably the service’s most important role. If this service were to stop, our rural and coastal communities would be dramatically affected.”

Mr Murphy says trustees also recognised the critical support the service provides our Primary sector.

“The nature of our rural economy means that many are engaged in occupations in remote farming and forestry locations. While hopefully accidents are few and far between, these accidents include life-threatening injuries and complex rescues. No other service can deliver the outcomes the chopper does do for these patients,” he says.

Mr Murphy says the Trust also recognised the service’s role is in providing peace of mind for tourists, travellers and tourism operators.

“Whether travelling our remote roads or enjoying the hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities our region is renowned for, tourists should also feel comfortable in the knowledge that such a service exists.”

Mr Murphy says trustees acknowledged the efforts of the rescue team and the volunteer Board who provide the governance oversight.

“This service is run by a highly capable team who deliver exceptional results for our region,” he says.

ECT’s sponsorship arrangement will be in place until September 2022.