THE south-west rescue helicopter is proving its worth as statistics show it is attending more cases each year.
On average, the helicopter was called to an incident every 36 hours in its third year of operation — a 40 per cent jump on its first year.
Ambulance Victoria figures show the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) 4 crew, based at Warrnambool airport, responded to 175 cases in 2009-10, 225 in 2010-11 and 243 in the past year.
About half the incidents were trauma cases, with 45 per cent medical and the rest made up of other jobs such as search-and-rescue flights or maritime rescues.
Acting HEMS 4 team manager Peter Jenkins said there was a “steady increase” in the number of cases the helicopter was dispatched to.
“There’s also an almost even spread in the types of patients we’re seeing as well,” Mr Jenkins said.
“While the air ambulance is often linked in the news to traumatic cases like car crashes, it’s interesting to note that nearly half of our workload is actually stabilising and transporting people with medical issues as well.
“HEMS 4 staff train regularly for search-and-rescue tasks and, so far, have undertaken approximately 10 winch-type rescue operations annually.
"Beacon searches and the occasional retrieval from ships and oil rigs is also a part of the work."
Mr Jenkins said the crew appeared to be busier during the school holiday period, especially Easter.
"However, this July I believe that they have been busier than ever."
The rescue helicopter transported its first patient in July 2009 after a 13-year campaign for the region’s own service.
Garvoc mother Dominique Fowler became involved in the campaign in 2007 after losing her 18-year-old daughter, Alycia, in a road accident at Allansford.
She led a peaceful rally at Parliament House and secured a meeting with then premier John Brumby, who eventually agreed to fund the service.
Mrs Fowler said the figures came as no surprise: "We all knew the service was needed."
She said the helicopter would have helped many people over the past three years, with the majority of south-west residents likely to have a friend or family member who had some link with people involved in a medical emergency or rescue operation.
Mrs Fowler said in the past week alone, one of her friends was transported to St Vincent’s Private while another man who travelled on the supporters’ bus to the Melbourne rally had a brother who needed to be flown to Geelong.
The human factor was the major focus behind the campaign’s success, she said. "We just wanted people to be treated with the best care possible."