First mission landing on Christchurch Hospital Helipad

Christchurch Hospital helipad heralds new era for rescue helicopter patients

Christchurch’s new helipad began operation today with its first patients arriving directly via the Rescue Helicopter.

With landing space for two helicopters on top of the new Waipapa hospital building, it is the only helipad in New Zealand which will have a clinical support unit which will enable specialist treatment immediately on touchdown.

Until now, helicopters were landing in Hagley Park and it was taking on average an extra 13 minutes to transfer patients by road ambulance to Christchurch Hospital. This is the same amount of time it takes to fly a patient from Akaroa to Christchurch.

Christchurch Hospital is New Zealand’s largest trauma centre and, before the new Waipapa hospital opened this week, it was the only tertiary hospital in New Zealand without a helipad.

Murray Willocks, Chair of the Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust says it is a world-class facility which enables a seamless transition to treatment for trauma patients.

“Having such an advanced and future-proofed helipad at Christchurch Hospital is going to give patients a speedy and smooth transition from the scene to the emergency department. It will result in not only a dramatically improved patient experience, but also much improved patient outcomes,” he says.

Rick Knight, Crew Chief adds, “Currently when we do an inter-hospital transfer from Timaru or Kaikoura the specialist clinical team need to taxi to the base from the hospital. It will save so much time being able to pick them up on the heli-pad – it’s a game changer.”

Operations Manager and Senior Pilot Stuart Farquhar, who was on the first mission to the helipad today, says after decades of landing in Hagley Park it was exciting to be bringing the first patient to this state-of-the-art new facility.

“This is a huge step forward, not only for the patients, but also for health and safety. Having a secure landing pad is so important for a pilot. We will not be disturbing all of those weekend sports anymore, although I will miss waving to all of the families in Hagley Park,” Mr Farquhar says.

With the help of the Maia Health Foundation, the new helipad is 30 per cent bigger than initially planned, enabling two helicopters to access the helipad at the same time.

Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust Chief Executive, Christine Prince says today’s new era of air rescue for Christchurch could not have been achieved without the help of the community through vital fundraising efforts, over many years.

“To keep the Westpac Rescue helicopters and ROA Mining Rescue Helicopter in the air, we aim to fundraise $6 million every year to contribute our goal of $5,000 for each mission and to provide equipment and essential crew training. Fundraising has been difficult this year due to COVID, and our busiest time of year is now approaching,” she says.

“We had 195 missions this winter and spring quarter, a 32 per cent increase in mission numbers over the previous quarter last year, and most were due to accident-related events.

“The service has highly skilled pilots and specially trained clinical crews in Rescue Helicopters carrying the latest aviation and medical technology, and now they have the best place to deliver patients in the fastest time,” Ms Prince says.