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Care From the Air: Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service      
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The Royal Flying Doctor Service started in 1928 with the Reverend John Flynn and the first flight from Cloncurry (Australia), way back 83 years ago.

Welcome, joyful viewers, to this edition of Good People, Good Works. Our show features the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS), a non-profit organization that uses the latest in aviation, medical and communications technology to provide 24-hour, emergency medical services and primary healthcare services throughout Australia.

The group was founded in 1928 by Presbyterian minister Reverend John Flynn, who saw “the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas where just two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of almost two-million square kilometers.” Nino Di Marco is the chief executive officer of the Queensland section of the RFDS.

It began with the vision of John Flynn to essentially be able to bridge the gap. Australia’s a large country and he was very keen to make sure that we had health services delivered to those in rural and remote areas. And that was his vision and still is our vision today.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service, touching the lives of tens of thousands of Queenslanders each year. To the people of the bush, the service means survival. All RFDS aircraft in Queensland are mobile intensive-care units. The Flying Doctor provides aero-medical services to every square meter of Queensland, from its bases in Brisbane, Bundaberg, Cairns, Charleville, Mount Isa, Rockhampton, Townsville and Longreach.

The great thing, I think, about Australia in particular is, anyone that is working, travelling or living in rural and remote areas of Queensland and the rest of Australia, if they have a need for the RFDS, we will go out and provide our services and at no cost to them individually. It’s just a significant thing to be able to know that if you are in trouble, you don’t have to worry about what it’s going to cost to get someone to help you.

So what we have is the ability to basically be able to get to anyone within Queensland within two hours, and that’s something we value and we try and work to gain the resources that we need. But essentially, anyone in Queensland; (you) don’t have to be a Queenslander, they can come from different parts of Australia or different parts of the world, but if they do need our services, that’s what we’re there for.

When I made the phone call, and they said, "Okay, Michelle pack your bags, you’re off. And that’s when I went into a bit of panic, and I thought, “Oh, I’m not ready for this. I’m only 30 weeks (pregnant) and it shouldn’t be happening.”

His lungs weren’t developed. I think being so far out of town, not having that (medical) equipment, I don't think he would have survived at all. We would have lost him, for sure. It's a great service, the Flying Doctor and we appreciate it very much. I think we’ve got the best system in the world.

How many staff members does the Royal Flying Doctor Service have?

At the moment we have just in Queensland alone, 400 staff, and that’s mainly pilots, doctors, nurses, a whole range of allied health professionals and also our support services. Australia-wide we have over 750 staff.

So my job mostly these days, while I’m a practicing doctor, is mostly involved in the administration. So I have oversight of all of the services that we deliver. So making sure that all the services we deliver are of the highest quality and patient safety, and making sure that we are trying to achieve our aims of equitable healthcare for all Queenslanders.

The aircraft used by the RFDS are specially retrofitted for the organization’s lifesaving work.

Our aircraft when we buy them, we buy them essentially as a shell. So it’s an aircraft that has been stripped from the inside. It’s flown over from usually the United States by our own pilots. And then we fit it out with aero-medicals; so stretchers, a couple of seats, all the medical equipment, oxygen, essentially into an intensive-care unit. So that’s a significant amount; it’s about a million dollars to fit out an aircraft.

Here in Queensland, we have over 20 aircraft in the fleet and 56 Australia- wide.

I like being out in the bush, and I like the people that we meet. The true people we meet of Australia are out here, and they're the salt of the Earth. And everyone is always pleased to see you when you arrive.

However awful the accident or the scene that we're going to, they’re always so grateful and happy to see us because I think they just think, "Great, the Flying Doctors are here!" John Flynn's vision is definitely still working today.

We’re not specialists, really. We’re sort of jack of all trades. But we are expected to deal with whatever turns up. And that can be a bit scary at times. You may be going to something you’d never seen before.

Usually our crew comprise a pilot, a nurse, and a lot of our work in terms of transferring patients from one hospital center to another is with a nurse. Our doctors often accompany those and they definitely will be on as part of the crew for any emergency. So usually it’s the pilot, doctor and nurse. Sometimes we might have some extra staff if it’s required, depending on the circumstance, but that’s essentially the make-up of our crews.

Can you think of a life-saving, memorable story that has come through working for the Royal Flying Doctors?

Probably the one that comes to mind right now and particularly is still vivid in our memory, is when Cyclone Yasi was about to cross the coast on the night of the 2nd of February this year (2011). It was predicted to have winds of 300 kilometers an hour and the decision was made to evacuate the Cairns Hospital.

Now Cairns Hospital has 340 patients; that was 340 patients needed to be relocated from Cairns to various other places throughout Queensland, particularly here in the southeast and all the hospitals that we have down here.

The very last patient that was relocated from that was a lady with her two premature babies, seven weeks premature, and we brought them down from Cairns to Brisbane at 10 o’clock the morning before, within two hours of Cairns Airport being closed. That was the last flight out of Cairns and that was within hours before the cyclone crossed; it was a touch-and-go exercise.

And it was just a great opportunity to really reflect and have a look at the service that we were able to provide, and our people in Cairns were able to provide and help these two premature little babies being flown out of Cairns down to Brisbane.

The other great thing was that she was there when Prince William came to visit and asked to have a look at the base and meet the people that were involved in the rescue efforts. And also she was there as part of the group that was there to meet the Prince and it was a very special moment to look back and see that she was healthy and the babies were healthy as well.

Each year RFDS pilots fly the equivalent of 25 round trips to the moon and the charity provides care for nearly 270,000 patients. The determined pilots and staff give their utmost to overcome challenges to get people the medical attention they urgently need.

We had a significant flood here in Brisbane that disrupted a lot of our activities because our base here, we have three aircraft here and we’re flying a lot of patients from different parts of Queensland down into the hospitals here in Brisbane and that created significant problems in trying to keep the service up and running.

And then we had two tropical cyclones; one was Tropical Cyclone Anthony that crossed the coast up north. It had some damage, but disrupted activities again because of what cyclones do.

To ensure the highest-level of service, RFDS keeps in close contact with the populations it assists and solicits their opinions in order to better serve them.

And all our services are really built up from a community participation process where we go and ask communities what sort of healthcare they need and make sure we’re not delivering what we believe they need, but actually giving them what they want or what they need themselves. So it’s really making sure you spend the time to talk to people, talk to communities, find out what their needs are and which ones aren’t being met.

For their compassionate, selfless aid to Queenslanders, Supreme Master Ching Hai provided the Queensland section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia with US$50,000 to support their splendid work.

This will go a long way to helping deliver the services that we deliver.

Thank you very much to Supreme Master Ching Hai for this wonderful donation to the RFDS Queensland. We really do appreciate it and thank you for coming to our offices here today to share this lovely day. Thank you.

Our Association members presented the organization with some beautiful gifts from Supreme Master Ching Hai as well.

We’ve got “The Birds in My Life,” some of her publications; “The Dogs in My Life” and “The Noble Wilds” and we’ve got some more books. This is her latest, “From Crisis To Peace” (Thank you.) and just some of her DVDs and book collections. (Thank you very much.)

You’re welcome. (Thank you, thank you again.)

Okay, there you go. (Excellent! Thank you very much)

Our sincere appreciation Nino Di Marco, Ian Hosegood, and all staff of the Queensland section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia for your dedicated service to residents in rural areas where medical care is not readily available. May your organization’s benevolent work continue to always deliver joy and relief to those in need.

For more information on the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, please visit www.FlyingDoctor.org.au

Cordial viewers, thank you for joining us on this week’s Good People, Good Works. May all spirits soar forever through the grace of the Providence.

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