Thursday 24 May 2012

Hansard of the Legislative Council



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I am going to talk today about the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I have just been imagining how it would be to live on Flinders Island.

Ms Rattray - You would be very lucky if you did.

Mr FINCH - Well, if you discovered that your child had severe meningitis or maybe a tractor had caused grief to a member of the family, or if you lived at Wynyard and you had a critically ill baby who needed urgent surgery in Melbourne or something like that, where does the help come from? In February 1997, the first flight from the Royal Flying Doctor Service's new base at the Launceston airport did fly a critically ill baby from Wynyard to Essendon for urgent surgery.

The Tasmanian section of the service was formed much earlier than that, in fact in 1960, although emergency medical planes were operated in Tasmania long before that, going back to the 1930s. The founding of the service in Launceston was partly due to the efforts of Mr Laurie Shea. Some in this House might still remember Laurie Shea, the secretary of health at the time, supported by the then minister for health, Dr Spot Turnbull. It initially used chartered light aircraft with unpaid aero club pilots.

I went to an open day last Sunday at the RFDS Launceston airport base, to celebrate the 84th national anniversary of the flying doctor service. Also, this year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Australian Inland Mission, which later became the Royal Flying Doctor Service and was founded by the Reverend John Flynn. John Flynn witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas where two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of almost 2 million square kilometres. I would like to quote from the Royal Flying Doctor Service website:

Flynn's vision was to provide a 'mantle of safety' for these people and on 15th May 1928, his dream had become a reality with the opening of the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service (later renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service) in Cloncurry, Queensland.

Over the next few years, the RFDS began to expand across the country.

There is a story of an inspiration about this airborne service that does have quite a sad ring to it. In 1917, during World War I, John Flynn received a letter from Lieutenant Clifford Peel, a Victorian medical student with an interest in aviation - the young airman was fighting in Europe - and he suggested the use of aviation to bring medical help to the outback. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Peel was shot down in France; he died at the age of 24 never knowing that this letter to John Flynn had become the basis for the creation of the flying doctor service. For the next 10 years, Flynn campaigned for an aerial medical service and his vision became a reality when a long-time supporter left a very large bequest which enabled them to get the service airborne.

The first aircraft was a timber and fabric de Havilland single-engine biplane leased from Qantas. Of course, as we learned at school, the service was made more efficient because of the invention of a pedal-operated generator that powered a radio receiver, the almost mythical pedal radio. No, I didn't work there.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - Many people associate the service with outback Australia but, as the service points out, there are people living in rural Tasmania and on the surrounding islands who are just as isolated and they have just as much need of access to medical care as those living in the outback. As I mentioned in my introduction, imagine the feeling of isolation of someone on a Bass Strait island, facing a medical emergency without the flying doctor service.

The RFDS SES has other functions in Tasmania apart from medical retrieval. It is expanding primary health care for the Bass Strait islands under the commonwealth Department of Health which provides $1.1 million a year in addition to the state DHHS funding for primary health care for the islands' populations. It manages more than 80 consulting sessions a year by a GP in rural Tasmania. The service's Launceston airport base, which is now secure for the foreseeable future, operates a King Air B200 aircraft with a team of six pilots, two engineers and a base manager, and it is closely integrated with other medical retrieval services like Ambulance Tasmania.

The open day on Sunday was a wonderful day. The ABC was there, and many might have heard Chris Wisbey giving his report. I had the opportunity to interview quite a few people like Lindsay Miller OAM who is the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tasmania section life member. I also interviewed Dr George Merridew, the President of the RFDS. It was an interesting day and there will be more open days in the future.