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13 August, 2021

Flying Doctors continues to connect Cape York to Cairns

AS you descend from the north into Cairns Airport, a small, unassuming aircraft hangar can be seen to the right, housing aircraft brandishing a familiar, iconic livery.


RFDS Cairns Base Nurse Manger - Aeromedical, Leanne Hill

Amongst the larger commercial aircraft taxiing and unloading passengers, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) (RFDS) aircraft appear delicate and quaint.

But these workhorses of the sky, and the people who work in them every day, are anything but delicate and quaint.

The RFDS Cairns Base is regarded as the busiest Flying Doctor aeromedical base in Australia, employing more than 95 staff to deliver vital healthcare services right through Cape York.

Services range from GP and nurse-led primary health care clinics, including child and maternal health and vaccination clinics, mental health services, telehealth, as well as the aeromedical retrieval services for which the RFDS is traditionally known.

This week, the RFDS (Queensland Section) has released its latest annual patient and aviation statistics, and the numbers show just how vital those services are.

In the past 12 months, 12,319 patients were transferred to emergency or specialist care by the RFDS across the state. Of those, the RFDS Cairns Base was responsible for more
than 1,100.

RFDS Cairns Base Nurse Manger - Aeromedical, Leanne Hill said the base is made up of a truly multi-disciplinary team, consisting of primary health care GPs, flight nurses and midwives, emergency medical officers, mental health clinicians, and of course, pilots.

She said it was a true team effort that ensured delivery of world-class healthcare to some of the most remote parts of the state.

“Every day is different when you work for the RFDS, and that is truly the case here in Cairns,” Ms Hill said.

“It’s a real privilege to work with the team here, but even more so to be able to deliver healthcare to the people of Far North Queensland.

“Everyone here is extremely passionate about what they do, and this results in an incredible amount of trust being built up in many communities up here. This is fundamental in ensuring we can deliver effective healthcare to the people we serve.

“We understand the challenges that come with living in regional, rural and remote Australia, and they understand the natural challenges that come with delivering healthcare service to
those areas.”

 Evidence of this trust can be found in the amount of people accessing RFDS primary health care clinics, with more than 40,000 patient consultations occurring in the past 12 months. Statewide, these include GP and nursing clinics, dental clinics and mental health clinics.

A total of 18,698 patients accessed primary healthcare delivered by RFDS Cairns crews. Breaking down the tyranny of distance to healthcare was a key driver behind Reverend John Flynn first establishing the RFDS 93 years ago. And RFDS pilots are still fundamental in ensuring the service can still occur today.

Last financial year, RFDS pilots flew a total of 24,279 hours over 8.3 million kilometres, landing 22,587 times. Cairns pilots alone flew more than 1.2 million kilometres, the equivalent of about 31 times around the earth.

RFDS (Queensland Section) Chief Executive Officer Meredith Staib said she was immensely proud of the work delivered by staff each and every day.

“It’s been another big year for the RFDS, as demonstrated by the incredible volume of work we’ve performed,” she said.

“For more than 93 years the RFDS has helped rural and remote Queenslanders access equitable healthcare services to those available to their counterparts in the city.

“Our efforts over the past year demonstrate our commitment to ensuring continuity of this service well into the future, and Cairns locals should be proud that they have a service such as this on their doorstop, which makes such a difference to people’s lives every day.”


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