Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Life Flight had a broad set of procedures for dealing with infectious diseases. These procedures had been sufficient for anything we had encountered previously; the pandemic changed the playing field, and it became clear that work would need to be done to enable the safe continuation of operations throughout the pandemic. Life Flight, along with our partners Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) and Wellington Free Ambulance (WFA) had to collaborate, design and implement methods of safely carrying out aeromedical work in the COVID-19 environment whilst keeping our teams, our partner’s teams, and our patients safe.
Working closely with CCDHB, we developed the criteria for assessing COVID-19 risk for each mission so that the appropriate levels of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and special procedures could be applied. Every aspect of a mission was planned in detail from the initial assessments of the risk, all the various stages of transport, using ambulance services, loading and unloading patients, delivering the patient to the destination hospital and decontamination.
We produced a manual that covered all types of missions that we carry out. One of the big challenges was that the manual had to satisfy the COVID-19 requirements of our various operational partners i.e., CCDHB, WFA, Search and Rescue Services Limited (SRSL) and Air Freight New Zealand (AFNZ). This collaboration made the document very robust.
The manual continues to be updated as we further develop protocols around operating in the pandemic, but the basic concepts within the manual have served us well. This has allowed us to continue to help people in need throughout an ever-changing time. In the long term, we will be able to apply the principles of what we have learned to any other infectious outbreak.
Life Flight flew 62 patients during the 2020 lockdown, including 25babies and children. While the rest of New Zealand stayed inside in their bubbles, our flight teams continued to fly sick patients around the country to receive the care they urgently needed.
(Data taken from March 25 to April 27, 2020.)
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