Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Contract

The Auditor-General, Mr Peter Achterstraat, today released his report on the NSW Ambulance Service contract for helicopter emergency medical services in Sydney, Wollongong and Orange.

“This contract generated much public comment when it was first announced in 2006”, Mr Achterstraat said. “There were claims that the contract with CHC wasn’t won fairly, that performance had deteriorated, and that it is costing more”, he added.

We did not find anything to suggest that the tender process was unfair. It was consistent with standards and guidelines, and Cabinet approved it.

“We saw that helicopters take off as required in the contract. This doesn’t mean that every flight takes off within the contract target times, but on average CHC meets the targets”, Mr Achterstraat said. “With the exception of Wollongong they meet availability requirements”, he added.

“The new service in Sydney, Wollongong and Orange is costing three times as much as it did before”, Mr Achterstraat said. “CHC won the tender with the second lowest price and the highest rating for quality of service”, he added.

“For this additional money, the Ambulance Service has common procedures, crews and training, and better helicopters with more capacity for Sydney, Wollongong and Orange. The new helicopters can transport heavier patients, as well as patients who need specialised equipment such as heart-lung machines”, said Mr Achterstraat.

The Wollongong and Orange helicopters are flying more missions than before CHC commenced. Missions flown by the Sydney helicopters initially increased, but are now back around the same as before the contract. This pattern was repeated in other parts of NSW with non-CHC helicopters flying a similar number of missions to five years ago. We are satisfied that it’s not due to any bottleneck with CHC.

Mr Achterstraat recommended that:

  • the longstanding safety problems with the Orange base hospital helipad be rectified - something indentified by an Ambulance Service audit in March 2010.

  • before renewing any contracts the Ambulance Service should review all its helicopter emergency medical services because the level of demand hasn’t grown as expected.

  • the Ambulance Service improve the performance information it reports to the public. They publish a lot of information on how road ambulances are performing, but hardly anything on their helicopters.

“I believe that a lot of the concern and controversy could have been allayed if the public was given more information on how the helicopters are performing”, he added.

Further Information

Please contact Barry Underwood, Executive Officer, on 9275 7220 or 0403 073 664 email: barry.underwood@audit.nsw.gov.au