11/04/2022 - 11:15

Rural partnership keeps RFDS on track to rescue remote patients in need

11/04/2022 - 11:15

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Rural partnership keeps RFDS on track to rescue remote patients in need
The RFDS retrieves thousands of patients from WA's agricultural regions each year. Photo Colleen Reid

Farming communities across Western Australia are used to looking to the skies when they need urgent medical assistance and, as the familiar sound of a Royal Flying Doctor (RFDS) aircraft arrives, they know they’re in safe hands.

For over 90 years, the RFDS has provided a vital lifeline for agricultural and other regional communities in need, retrieving the critically injured and unwell to hospital.

During the 2020-21 financial year, over 10,000 patients were retrieved by the RFDS right across WA.  In the agricultural regions of the Great Southern, Midwest and Wheatbelt, regular emergencies included injuries and accidents, heart attacks and strokes as well as digestive system complaints, amounting to over 3,500 retrievals. 

With Australia’s largest RFDS aircraft fleet, the Flying Doctor ‘mantle of safety’ allows the medical professionals on board to cover all 2.5 million square kilometres of this vast state.

Maintaining such a fleet and the growing need for RFDS services in far-flung parts of WA requires partnerships with organisations who truly understand the value of the service to regional communities. One such organisation is CBH Group – a co-operative, owned and controlled by Western Australian grain growers.

RFDS Western Operations CEO Rebecca Tomkinson, CBH Group CEO Ben Macnamara and Lifeline WA CEO Lorna MacGregor

When a health emergency occurs, agribusinesses and rural communities rely on the RFDS to assist. In addition, acute mental health issues are an increasingly common reason for a Flying Doctor call-out, accounting for around eight patient retrievals each week.

At the end of 2021, CBH Group joined forces with the RFDS and Lifeline WA to support their ‘Flights for Life’ appeal, which turned a fleet of planes into flying billboards to promote the Lifeline WA helpline. Both services had experienced an unusually high demand for mental health support over the last few years as Western Australians have faced extraordinary challenges.

The RFDS responded to 421 patients requiring emergency mental health care in 2020/21, while Lifeline WA answered a call for help every 30 seconds during the recent festive season. The Flights for Life appeal which ran over summer 2021/22 marked the first time RFDS and Lifeline WA joined forces to raise funds and raise awareness for their much-needed services.

CBH Group CEO Ben Macnamara said the co-operative was very proud to support the appeal.  The long-term relationship between the RFDS and CBH Group stretches back to 2014, resulting in more than $1.3 million in funding directed to the RFDS in WA.

“CBH is committed to supporting the health of our growers and communities through the CBH Mental Health Program. The ‘Flights for Life’ appeal was an opportunity to further support the RFDS WA and Lifeline WA in raising funds and awareness of their much-needed services”, said Mr Macnamara.

RFDS WA CEO Rebecca Tomkinson said the RFDS and CBH Group share the same commitment to people in rural and remote WA.

“CBH Group and the wider grain growing community in Western Australia have provided significant support for the Flying Doctor in WA for many years and we were very pleased to have their support for our Flights for Life campaign,” said Ms Tomkinson.

“CBH’s investment is vital in ensuring the sustainability of our service, supporting our equipment needs and aircraft fleet now and into the future.

Inside the patient statistics are the human stories about the impact of the RFDS on WA’s farmers.

Charles Sanderson, an 89-year old farmer from Esperance, was retrieved by the RFDS with heart failure. What began as a scalding sensation ended up in an urgent flight to Perth to have a pacemaker fitted.

“I initially thought I’d spilled coffee on my shirt, but dismissed it, drank the coffee and went to work in the shed,’ said Charles. But worsening symptoms made him realise he had to act fast.

At Esperance Hospital, doctors quickly diagnosed Charles with bradycardia and an RFDS crew was tasked to attend, assess and stabilise Charles’ condition before transporting him to Fiona Stanley Hospital for surgery.

“I remember almost all of the treatment I received and the flight with the RFDS and in my opinion, it was the very best treatment anyone could possibly receive,” he said.

These days, Charles is back on the farm, but forever grateful to the RFDS who came to his aid.

“The Flying Doctor is a service that’s essential for us people living in the bush,” he said.

CBH Group will once again be the Matched Giving Partner (along with Rio Tinto, IGO & Byrnecut) for the 2022 Flying Doctor Day appeal on 17 May.

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