Wednesday, January 24, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Mackay Base Hospital Interim Helicopter Landing Site Announced

Amid community concerns over potential delays, Mackay Base Hospital's helipad operations are set to temporarily move to Mackay Airport during the forthcoming $250 million hospital expansion. This relocation introduces a travel distance of 5.4 to 6.2 km from the airport to the hospital, sparking apprehensions about extended transfer times. The decision, guided by extensive consultation and expert evaluations, underscores the importance of Mackay Airport as the interim landing site due to not having additional capital expenditure while maintaining a commitment to efficient and secure patient care.

Work on the expansion of Mackay Base Hospital to deliver an additional 128 beds will start next month. Managing contractors BESIXWatpac will take control of the hospital expansion site on 1 February and begin site establishment works.

The hospital expansion will also deliver additional paediatric beds in a new ward with a co-located Ronald McDonald Family Room as well as expanded maternity services.

To safely deliver these works in line with aviation requirements, the current helipad at Mackay Base Hospital will be temporarily relocated to Mackay Airport.

This decision follows an intensive exploration into potential locations for the temporary helicopter landing site by aviation and critical care consultants.

Mackay Hospital and Health Board Chair Helen Darch said the Department of Health and Mackay HHS engaged independent experts and undertook extensive stakeholder engagement to ensure the temporary relocation best serves the needs of the health service and its patients.

“There are many factors at play in determining the safest location for an interim helicopter landing site, and the decision to use the Mackay Airport during our construction phase is the best overall solution based on the independent advice of experts in this field, both in aviation and in critical care,” Ms Darch said.

Ms Darch said the safety of patients and helicopter crews was the overriding consideration for the health service when selecting an interim landing location.

“The decision-making process has been underpinned by our unwavering commitment to transparent consultation and patient safety and comfort,” Ms Darch said.

“Following independent expert advice and consultation with local community groups, the decision for the temporary location considered clinical, environmental, aviation, and technical considerations.

“The temporary relocation will enable the delivery of our vital expansion works, which will include a permanent helipad on campus.”

Ms Darch said the assessment report included consideration of 21 locations at 19 potential landing sites, and considered relevant legislation and safety standards, the landing requirements for the different-sized helicopters and assessed the conditions at each site.

The distance to the Mackay Base Hospital from each potential landing site was measured, and other factors impacting a helicopter landing site such as lighting, security and patient privacy, were also assessed.

“With the report findings carefully considered, the decision to relocate the helicopter landing site to Mackay Airport was bolstered by the location's existing safety procedures and the number of patient movements that already occur via the airport.

“We are talking with the ambulance service, Mackay Airport and CQ Rescue about procedures and resources that may be needed to support this arrangement.”

In supporting the decision of the Board, Mackay HHS Chief Executive Susan Gannon said the health service had sought the opinion of medical experts based in Mackay, Queensland and externally from interstate. The decision was also supported by Queensland Health.

“It’s important to remember that critical care starts when a highly skilled doctor first meets the patient, not when they get to the Base Hospital. They will continue to receive this one-to-one support while being transferred from the helicopter in the ambulance,” Ms Gannon said.

“If a patient is critical, it is better to provide care to the patient in an ambulance and not on a trolley,” she said.

The Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) has reviewed the findings of the various reports and recommendations into the relocation of the Mackay Base Hospital helipad in relation to patient transport arrangements. There will be a dedicated ambulance vehicle at the helicopter base to allow the immediate transfer of incoming patients to Mackay Base Hospital.

QAS acknowledged the need for a guaranteed timely transfer of patients between the proposed landing zone at Mackay Airport and the Mackay Base Hospital, and remains committed to the safe and timely care of patients in all circumstances.

The report concluded that the airport presented the best options based on a number of factors.

The conclusion read, “The analysis of identified options for the establishment of an interim HLS to serve Mackay Hospital during the construction phase of the new P-Block development indicates that the continued use of the existing facilities, protocols and procedures for patient transfers at Mackay Airport (Option 9 and Option 11 in Figure 4) represents the best overall solution for an interim HLS facility.”

In the report, Option 9 is the eastern apron area currently used by fixed wing air ambulance flights as well as helicopter air ambulance flights operated by QG Air and CapRescue services. The travel distance to the hospital from the east apron is 6.2 km for which Google Maps nominates a travel time of 10 to 16 minutes. Option 11 refers to the existing CQ Rescue base with a travel distance to the hospital of 5.4 km and a travel time between 9 and 14 minutes.

Option 9 (East apron) and Option 11 (CQ Rescue, west apron) are the existing on-airport areas where patient transfers already occur with established protocols and procedures available and in use. As such, both options are available without delay and the efficiency of the current operations can be enhanced by considering the suggested ‘tweaks’ to protocols and procedures identified in the stakeholder consultation.

The report also concluded, “It is noted that the road ambulance transfer options provide the best patient care as the patient is stationary inside the moving vehicle and can be given maximum attention by the attendant medical crew that travels with the patient. One key advantage of the on-airport options is that they currently exist and the identified enhancements can be implemented with minimum delay and at a nominal cost, significantly less than would be involved in any alternate development requiring capital expenditure.”

Locations 8 – 12 were all considered at Mackay Airport, with the report finding in favour of locations 9 and 11 where existing infrastructure is already located. Image source: Mackay Hospital and Health Service

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