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by Alexia Johnston

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter is transferring patients between hospitals in growing numbers.

In the three months to August 31, patient transfer numbers more than tripled compared with the same period last year, rising from 16 to 54.

The helicopter service, which attends car crashes and skiing and snowboarding accidents, also transfers people between hospitals in Timaru, Kaikoura, Ashburton, Greymouth and Westport.

Last year, 24 transfers were made to or from South Canterbury. The helicopter has already made 42 transfers so far this year.

Reasons for patient transfers have included stroke, heart attack, post-surgical complications and neonatal and maternity issues.

So far this year, patients have been transferred by helicopter from Timaru Hospital to Christchurch Hospital for a range of other reasons, including spinal and head injuries following a car crash, burns, facial fractures, a retinal eye injury, a fractured sternum and a spine injury.

Westpac Rescue Trust chief executive officer Christine Prince said the service’s focus had changed.

“The service is more traditionally associated with accidents and search and rescue, but increasingly the crew are responding to more medical emergencies and transferring patients by helicopter from one hospital to another,” she said.

For Timaru Hospital patients, that typically involved a transfer to Christchurch Hospital, which had more specialist care and resources, Ms Prince said.

The service needed the support of communities, she said.

As it was “only partly government funded. We rely heavily on our local communities to support this life-saving service”.

The community was encouraged to continue its support of the service as it prepared for the typically busy summer holiday period, she said.