Planes, masks for medical staff on frontline


The Defence Force is on standby to provide planes and helicopters to evacuate COVID-19 patients from small rural hospitals if state governments request support.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has also revealed 10 million extra face masks will be released from the government's stockpile to frontline health workers this week and 200 million will be manufactured by year's end.

The measures answer three of the pleas medical staff on the frontline of COVID-19 battle made through News Corp papers Frontline campaign last week.

Last week the Rural Doctors Association of Australia raised concerns that existing Royal Flying Doctor aircraft needed for other services would not be able to cope with a substantial number evacuations of COVID-19 patients from the bush.

The association asked for the Defence Force and private aircraft operators to be put on standby to offer additional support if needed to get rural patients to ventilators in city hospitals.

Responding to the pleas a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Senator Linda Reynolds told News Corp: "Defence stands ready to assist if requested by state and territories. Anything is on the cards".

As yet no state government has requested aircraft from Defence but the NSW government told News Corp "requests to the Australian Defence Force will be made if required".


Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is ready to release defence resources for COVID-19. Picture: AAP
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is ready to release defence resources for COVID-19. Picture: AAP


Queensland is already requisitioning extra aircraft from aero medical charities and private medical as part of its $4 billion COVID-19.

Queensland Health said it had added three Life Flight and Aspen Medical air ambulance jets to Queensland Health's aeromedical fleet.

The Queensland Government has also stepped in to ensure that Regional Express (REX) airline continues to service rural and remote communities in Queensland, including provision for essential medical and workforce travel.

In Victoria the government said it was working closely with Adult Retrieval Victoria, and its fleet of aircraft and team of highly trained staff, to make sure patient

Rural Doctors Association CEO Peta Rutherford welcomed the moves but said it was important Defence was put on standby now.


Currently it can take three to four days to get access to Defence aircraft for medivacs and this would be too long for a COVID-19 emergency patient, she said.

General practitioners and hospital staff, especially those in the bush, have also complained they don't have enough face masks to deal with COVID-19 patients.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government had secured 30 million new masks and would be distributing 10 million of those to health workers this week.

The government is also funding a ramp up of local production of personal protective gear and by the end of the year aims to make up to 200 million masks.

Ms Rutherford welcomed the extra masks but said they key would be whether they made it to doctors in the bush.

Last week a West Australian doctor who needed face masks was sent just two masks in the mail by the Primary Health Network charged with distributing them, Ms Rutherford said.

"No it wasn't a joke, the PHN was at their wits end. They had such limited supply and so many demands, what could they do, what's the fairest way?" she said.

The problem was both general practitioners and hospitals were both competing for the same scarce supply of face masks, she said.

Protective gear was single use per patient and it did not take long to use up a small supply, Ms Rutherford said.

While extra masks would help doctors also needed gowns, face shields and gloves, she said.



Originally published as Help for frontline COVID-19 workers