The benefits and challenges of the Air Desk
- Greg Barrow, CEO
A two-year long trial to centralise the co-ordination and dispatch of national air ambulance helicopter services recently got underway.
Funded by the Ministry of Health and ACC, the Air Desk trial is supported by a collaboration between St John Ambulance, Wellington Free Ambulance and the Air Rescue Group.
The Air Desk is used successfully in Australia and the United Kingdom, meaning there are plenty of learnings to tap into. So, what is the Air Desk? How does it work? And what are the benefits and challenges of such an approach on our shores?
The Air Desk service centralises the handling of the country’s emergency air ambulance callouts, aiming to reduce the time from a medical event to when the patient receives care. Despatchers assess calls to help ensure the right types of emergency services are dispatched to the right situations and carrying the right medical crew. This is based on the location and terrain, weather conditions and patient requirements.
A critical factor is to ensure the Air Desk team member receives sufficient information regarding the accident or medical emergency to make an informed dispatch decision. A key measurement of the trial’s success will be if the service reduces the time from a medical event or accident until the helicopter is at the patient’s side – not if it simply sets out to reduce the number of helicopter missions in any given time to cut cost.
In Scotland, the Air Desk is seen to have failed if a decision to dispatch a helicopter is not made until a road ambulance crew on scene requests the helicopter. This is also a factor in New Zealand, and crucial minutes can be lost because a helicopter is not dispatched until a road ambulance is on the scene. In time, it is hoped the Air Desk despatchers will gain sufficient information and confidence to, where appropriate, dispatch the helicopter as a first responder.
If successful, this service will provide important benefits to New Zealand communities, particularly those in our country’s many remote areas. It will reduce the time it takes to get medical care at the scene of an accident or medical emergency, ultimately assisting people in need more readily.