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Maclean District Hospital’s helipad which has been inoperable for over 12 months, due to the introduction of larger helicopters used by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service. The helipad was closed as it failed to meet the new safety and engineering guidelines. Image: Lynne Mowbray

Maclean Helipad’s future

Lynne Mowbray | It’s been over 12 months since the closure of the Maclean Hospital helipad and the safety of the community still remains up in the air. The helipad was closed after the introduction of the new [larger] helicopters to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, as the helipad no longer met the new safety and engineering guidelines. Maclean Rotary Club president Anne Farrell said that at a recent Rotary Club meeting their guest speaker Northern NSW Local Health District [NNSW LHD] Chief Executive Wayne Jones spoke briefly regarding the helipad. “Mr Jones said that out of the three options which had been discussed regarding the helipad, the preferred option is to rebuild the helipad in the same location as the current one,” Ms Farrell said. “The cost to take and rebuild the helipad is going to be approximately $750,000. “This amount is way out of the league of the community to raise that kind of money and it is certain that there will need to be both State and Federal funding,” she said. In a statement from NNSW LHD Chief Executive Wayne Jones he said; “Northern NSW Local Health District has received costing estimates for a number of options which are being explored to bring the Maclean helipad into line with updated safety and security guidelines. The preferred option is to redevelop the existing helipad on its current site. NNSWLHD has consulted with engineers, Clarence Valley Council and aviation experts as part of the process, to determine the best solution for residents and patients requiring retrieval services in Maclean. NNSWLHD continues to work closely with Ambulance NSW to ensure there are no interruptions to services in the Maclean area. All patients continue to have access to helicopter retrieval services at alternative temporary landing sites as directed by the helicopter retrieval crew on a case by case basis.” State Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said that he was aware of the current situation. “I have had discussions with the Northern NSW LHD Executive Officer Wayne Jones who indicated the revised costing to upgrade the helipad is down to $750,000 from an initial assessment of $1.5 million,” Mr Gulaptis said. “This still seems excessive to me. “There is no doubt the helipad at Maclean is a vital piece of infrastructure for the hospital because it is a District Hospital and doesn’t have the staff and resources to deal with complex medical cases, which are quite often transferred to other hospitals such as Lismore and the Gold Coast. A timely retrieval is paramount to saving lives. “While I acknowledge there are competing priorities within the Northern NSW Local Health District, I see this as a number one priority for Maclean District Hospital and a fundamental need for the local community, which is why I will be raising the matter directly with the Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard along the Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, John Barilaro, seeking funding for its upgrade. Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan was only able to provide a brief comment, as he boarded a plane. “I have had recent contact with the Rotary Club of Maclean, CEO of Northern NSW Local Health District and my state colleague Chris Gulaptis and we are working towards a solution,” Mr Hogan said. In the meantime the question remains; when will the Lower Clarence have this valuable and potential lifesaving infrastructure back in operation?