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Medivac delays in NT -

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BRENDAN TREMBATH: There are renewed concerns about a medical evacuation service in the Northern
Territory.

It's come to light that a critically ill man in a remote Aboriginal community died partly because
an emergency plane was late to reach him.

It's not the first time the service is under scrutiny.

A review is already underway after an elderly man died of exposure when he was abandoned at a
remote airstrip.

To add to the problems, a plague of wallabies at one airstrip has stopped the evacuation flights
there at night.

Zoie Jones reports.

ZOIE JONES: The Lajamanu community is roughly half-way between Darwin and Alice Springs in the
Central Desert, and it was here last week that a critically ill 48-year-old Aboriginal man died,
just half an hour before a plane reached him to evacuate him to Darwin for treatment.

Willy Thompson is from the Katherine West Health Board that runs clinics in several remote
communities near the Territory's border with Western Australia.

WILLY THOMPSON: The Air Med mob was a bit late on getting there to Lajamanu community, didn't work
out too good, we lost a fella, Jabilari bloke.

ZOIE JONES: The Health Service says chronic problems with the medivac service means it's was just a
matter of time until someone died in the region because of plane delays.

The Service's CEO is Sean Heffernan.

SEAN HEFFERNAN: What happened was that the Air Med plane was scheduled to arrive at 5:30pm and
because of re-prioritisation of other cases that Air Med had to pick up, it blew out to 7:30pm, and
it's around 7 or just after 7pm that the patient passed away.

And it's not the primary cause of death, but it basically means that he would have been able to get
into the hospital environment.

ZOIE JONES: Earlier this year, the Northern Territory Coroner found that an elderly man died from
exposure at another remote community's airstrip after he was dropped off alone by a medivac plane.

That death triggered the Territory Government to review the contract between the Government and the
airline that runs the flights, and the Health Minister, Chris Burns, says the review will now be
expanded to look at resourcing problems and plane delays.

CHRIS BURNS: Well, there was a delay in retrieval, I've received a brief on that, but I suppose the
bottom line is that the gentleman died, and that's very sad and my commiserations to his family and
to the community, but commendation to the health clinic who really tried to resuscitate him.

ZOIE JONES: The Territory branch of the Australian Medical Association has raised concerns in the
past about the speed and efficiency of medical evacuation flights.

The AMA's Dr Peter Burns says the latest death could have been avoided.

PETER BURNS: According to people close to it, that death may have been caused by, may have been
avoidable, if the system had have been better.

We live in a situation where we have many, many people in remote situations, where we cannot
provide service on the ground, and we need to have a very effective and timely evacuation service
so these people can live with the security that they can get access to health care as it is needed.

ZOIE JONES: Since the Lajamanu man's death last week, another nine cases of medivac delays have
been uncovered, none of which resulted in the death of a patient.

One of the reasons for the delays is that planes are being sent from Darwin, instead of the town of
Katherine, which is a regional hub for the remote communities.

The airstrip that's used near Katherine is closed at night because a plague of wallabies makes it
dangerous to take-off and land.

The Federal Government has promised to help pay for a wallaby-proof fence around the airstrip, and
the Territory's Health Minister Chris Burns this morning asked the Federal Government to hurry up.

CHRIS BURNS: There've been some quite serious incidents of aero med planes flying at night and
landing and taking off at night, and there was one crash landing because the plane did strike a
wallaby.

Now, the Commonwealth said they're going to build a wallaby-proof fence, if you like, by December,
I've been in touch with the Minister's office this morning and asked that that be accelerated,
because currently, night operations for aero med retrievals can't operate out of Katherine, and
they have to operate out of Darwin, and that's causing further delays.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Northern Territory Health Minister Chris Burns, ending that report from Zoie
Jones in Darwin.