When the COVID pandemic grounded commercial flights earlier this year, the Flying Doctor stepped up to transport patients, medical specialists, pathology tests throughout Australia's central corridor.
“Every week for weeks and weeks we flew people between Darwin to Adelaide for vital medical appointments, cardiac patients, those needing an urgent MRI,” Darwin Acting Operations Manager Sam Bennett says.
“These were patients who would normally have been able to take a commercial flight.
“Our crews were also able to transport a COVID-checked escort with these patients as border closures meant there was no other way their loved ones could accompany them.”
During this time, the Flying Doctor also helped transfer third-party medical specialists to Alice Springs and pathology tests from remote communities for SA Health and NT Health.
Our teams partnered with SA Health to administer flu vaccinations in 11 Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) communities during lockdown.
And the Flying Doctor recognised COVID-19’s unprecedented impact on isolated communities and further adapted its response to support healthier and happier Australians no matter where they live.
This led the RFDS to assist Top End country men and staff from the Indigenous-owned and run health service Purple House to attend a funeral of an elder on Elcho Island.
In late April, the Flying Doctor worked with a team of school administrators, the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association and South Australian Police to transport stranded students across state lines shut down by the coronavirus.
“We received a call from Deep Well Station near Alice Springs and were advised that station families had exhausted all avenues in finding a way to get students back to school,” Ms Bennett says.
Acknowledging the importance of supporting rural families, a commuter RFDS aircraft was organised to airlift nine remote students to Adelaide to resume their schooling.
RFDS Executive General Manager of Marketing and Stakeholder Relations Charlie Paterson said the Flying Doctor started building its aeromedical capability to respond to COVID-19 in January, while also maintaining its non-aeromedical aircraft generally used for health clinics.
“Lending our capacity to assist our health partners and communities outside our day-to-day role during this crisis has been something we’ve been very proud of,” he says.
“In many ways, it has meant the continuation of vital health services as well as backing our communities as they transition back to ‘normal’.”
In the meantime, the RFDS continued to airlift eight Territorians and 15 South Australians every day for lifesaving and specialist medical care.
Miner stockpile solution
As COVID-19 created new demands on the RFDS, global mining company BHP stepped in to deliver a generous donation of important medical PPE from its Olympic Dam site in South Australia.
Boxes of masks, face shields and surgical gloves were delivered to the national stockpile warehouse at RFDS Victoria and is now being used by the Flying Doctor throughout Australia.
As part of its Vital Resources Fund initiative to support communities during COVID-19, BHP has also funded a 12-month Occupational Health & Safety Specialist position with RFDS Central Operations based in Adelaide.
With infection and disease control one of several key focus areas, the newly created role will maintain the RFDS Safety Management System during these challenging periods, creating a dedicated resource to enhance the health and safety outcomes for our people, patients and communities.