A long-term contract to provide health services to the INPEX Ichthys LNG project helps enable the RFDS to carry out its free community services, including emergency evacuations from remote communities and cattle stations.
Health staff stationed on INPEX’s two offshore platforms, 240 kilometres off the coast from Broome, are supported by four RFDS members in Darwin and four in Western Australia.
The charity, which has 80 aircraft at 23 bases throughout Australia, including one in Darwin and Alice Springs, goes to someone’s aid every 20 minutes in the Territory.
It started in 1939 in Alice Springs – the site is now a RFDS tourism attraction – and has grown to become the most comprehensive aero-medical organisation in the world.
About 2500 staff are employed nationwide.
“It’s amazing how we’ve grown,” says NT strategy manager Charlie Paterson. RFDS, which has been voted Australia’s most reputable and trustworthy charity, began by evacuating sick patients.
But it has expanded to include general health services, including primary and preventative care.
The aim is not only to help the sick but help people not to get sick in the first place.
“We want to prevent people having to get in the back of the plane,” Mr Paterson says.
“Our aim is to help Australians be healthier and happier.”
Its broader service includes working with organisations such as the NT Cattlemen’s Association to train Territorians how to detect early signs of mental health problems.
RFDS works closely with Aboriginal health bodies.
The charity also plays an important economic role in the Territory by pumping $38 million a year into the economy.
Its two tourism centres – at Alice Springs and Stokes Hill Wharf, Darwin – attract about 80,000 visitors each year. “We have a great economic impact,” Mr Paterson says. The organisation also helps improve the skills of Territorians through an apprenticeship program – there is an apprentice working at the Alice base.
“We want to build the capacity of Territorians to reverse the drain of skills. We identify suitable young Territorians and offer them training.
“We’ve got born-and-bred Territorians working for us.”
RFDS played a key role during the covid pandemic by supporting the Territory Government’s efforts to fly sick patients and their close contacts out of remote communities, and deliver test kits.
To donate to the RFDS, visit flyingdoctor.org.au