The Royal Flying Doctor Service’s Broken Hill Base is an integral cog in a well-oiled network that provides 24-hour aeromedical emergency services to those living, working or travelling in rural and remote communities of Australia.
One of nine bases and healthcare facilities in the South Eastern Section, and servicing a 640,000 sq km area of NSW/ACT, the base provides life-saving emergency evacuations and retrievals and comprehensive primary healthcare services – including clinics where patients can access community health nurses, dentists, mental health and allied health professionals.
Situated at Broken Hill Airport, the base utilises state-of-the-art aviation, medical and communications technology, to deal with medical issues requiring emergency evacuation such as motor vehicle and motorbike accidents, broken bones, heart attacks and strokes, sudden and severe chest pain, respiratory failure, snake and spider bites and work related injuries.
One of the more recent real life dramas attended by the Broken Hill Base – which in May this year celebrated 80 years of servicing local communities – related to a 36-week pregnant woman who was experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, which are not a sign of established labour.
Subsequently a decision was made by the local hospital to have the expectant mother flown to Adelaide.
And thanks to the professionalism of the on-board RFDS staff – including a flight nurse skilled in midwifery – a relieved mum, bouncing baby boy and proud dad (who arrived by car) all did exceptionally well.
The Broken Hill Base employs modified King Air aircraft which have two stretcher beds and three seats that can be reconfigured. The passenger door has been replaced with a large cargo door to facilitate patient loading and unloading.
In addition to the normal aircraft systems, the aircraft is fitted with an additional battery to provide medical power, a medical oxygen and suction system, and an intercommunication system between the cockpit and the medical staff in the cabin.
And along with a single pilot, a flight nurse is usually on every flight; and in cases where the patient is seriously ill, a doctor is also present. Other passengers can include sitting patients, accompanying relatives or specialist medical staff.
From its 23 aerobases, the RFDS (which is helping someone every two minutes of every day) operates a fleet of 66 fully instrumented aircraft. During 2014/15, it provided 4336 emergency evacuations and flew 26,847,325 kilometres. (That’s the equivalent of 34 trips to the moon and back, or more than 600 flights around the Earth!)
And during the corresponding period, the Broken Hill Base contributed towards 292,523 total patient contacts (made through RFDS clinics, aeromedical transports and telehealth consultations); 92,776 patients in rural and remote areas using RFDS telehealth services; and 15,248 nurse, GP and dental clinics conducted across Australia.
Indeed, the Broken Hill Base is a major contributor to this not-for-profit aeromedical organisation that was once acknowledged by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies as “perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country that we have witnessed in our time”.
The Broken Hill Base epitomises the RFDS motto: “The furthest corner. The finest care.” And it certainly continues to do the Reverend John Flynn (who founded the RFDS in 1928) proud!
The Clive Bishop Medical Centre and the Bruce Langford Visitor’s Centre also are located on the base at Broken Hill Airport.
The medical centre offers non-emergency treatment in the areas of family medicine – including immunisations and children’s health checks plus men’s and women’s health – as well as management plans for chronic illness, wound care, skin checks and minor surgical procedures.
The visitor’s centre combines a museum, 44-seat theatre and souvenirs shop, with interactive displays showing the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, as well as tributes to the doctors, pilots and flight nurses who work for the RFDS and the many community groups and benefactors who support them.