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Saving lives in remote and regional WA

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in Western Australia has transported more than 100 suspected, and three confirmed COVID-19 cases.

And with everyone taking holidays within WA’s hard border, they’re seeing 25-30 per cent more patients than this time last year.

RFDS senior staff specialist Dr Andrew Thelander said one of their biggest challenges was to develop new COVID-19 clinical protocols and infection controls measures, with very limited time.

“We had to overhaul our operations and procedures from start to finish. It was a coordinated response of epic proportions,” said Dr Thelander.

“When the pandemic began, there were moments when I couldn't sleep. Parts of it were overwhelming. But from the CEO to all our crews – we were united and resolved to keep everyone safe, both patients and staff. We had to stay calm and just do what needed to be done.”

Transporting people in a small aircraft which essentially serves as an ‘Intensive Care Unit in the sky’ is a challenging environment, with clinicians and patients confined to a small space, leaving them exposed.

Their highly specialised frontline workforce of pilots, flight nurses, doctors and engineers across their five bases in WA were all trained in strict infection control measures.

Like many organisations, the RFDS’ priority was securing and maintaining stocks of personal protective equipment, which was critical for their retrieval service to continue operating.

“When you go through something like this, you understand what camaraderie is,” said Dr Thelander.

“There isn't a single person. It’s everyone. For me, it is the embodiment of the Australian spirit.

"The focus now continues to be preparation, making sure we stay ready.”

At the start of the pandemic, BHP provided a AUD$2 million donation which led a resources industry funding commitment for the essential regional service.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service averages 25 rescues per day, and with BHP’s support, they are responding to the needs of regional and remote Western Australia, where the Flying Doctor is needed most.