04/11/2010 - 00:00

Flying faster with Rio on board

04/11/2010 - 00:00

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THE crucial role played by the Royal Flying Doctor Service across regional Western Australia has been boosted in recent years by an increased commitment from the corporate sector.

THE crucial role played by the Royal Flying Doctor Service across regional Western Australia has been boosted in recent years by an increased commitment from the corporate sector.

Its ability to meet the needs of patients in remote locations improved when mining giant Rio Tinto came on board as a major sponsor of the Life Flight Jet, the first Hawker 800 jet for a RFDS in the country.

“We conceived the idea a long time ago. RFDS has seen the need for an aero medical service in the state for a long time,” RFDS chief executive Tim Shackleton said.

While Rio’s sponsorship began in 2008, the jet took off on its first journey in October 2009.

“Until we established that partnership with Rio Tinto we had been unable to get sufficient financial support for that concept,” Mr Shackleton said.

“The service to people in the far-flung and remote parts of our state would not be anywhere near as good as it is today, and that is because of the jet.”

Mr Shackleton said there were increasing demands for the flying doctor’s services due to growing populations in remote areas as a result of mining activity, and the lack of best practice medical care for a number of health issues (including cardio vascular conditions) outside metropolitan areas.

“People generally now expect better access to tertiary medical care than they have in the past and there is also the well-known issue of country towns (not) providing sustainable specialist medical services,” he said.

While Rio is the major sponsor of the jet, further support has come from the Victorian RFDS and in-house fundraising group Flying 1000, which funded the jet’s $750,000 medical fit-out.

The state government’s Royalties for Regions program also pledged to underwrite up to $1 million for the three years of the Life Flight Jet program if it goes into deficit.

Rio’s alignment with RFDS is part of its strategy to support the communities in which it operates, helping provide the services necessary to sustain the populace, particularly health services.

And that message doesn’t resonate only with the corporate heads at Rio. As much as there is no formal ‘workplace giving’ project within the company for RFDS, the organisation’s staff are firmly involved in contributing to the service.

Workers at the company’s Hope Downs site collect and sell on average $7,000 of scrap metal each month, the proceeds of which go to RFDS, while one of the company’s long serving employees, Verna Barker, has raised $83,000 since 2001 as part of the Pannawonica RFDS fundraising committee.

Such grass roots efforts are a clear reflection of the importance of RFDS services to WA’s remote and regional communities; a need the RFDS chief executive said would be felt for many years to come.

“In my view, I don’t think this state should ever be without at least one fast long-range aero medical jet. I would predict within a small number of years there will be more than one,” Mr Shackleton said.

 

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