OP-ED: Royal Flying Doctor Service Changed Health Delivery in Tasmania

Thursday 13 May 2021, The Examiner

The Royal Flying Doctor Service celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, these past years heralding a significant shift in the way rural and regional healthcare in Tasmania has been approached and managed.

During a time when our communities weren't as well connected through technology, by road or by sea, providing medical assistance by air often meant the difference between life and death.


The first plane flight from Launceston being September 19, 1960.


Sixty years on, the RFDS still innovates and makes a huge difference in the lives of rural and regional Tasmanians.


The raft of programs provided by the RFDS - from dental and mental health to women and children and primary health - gives everyone equal opportunity to access vital health care, no matter where they are.

In April, the RFDS was announced as Australia's most trusted charity based on the Australian Reader's Digest Trusted Brands survey of 2021 and it is no wonder why.


It isn't unusual for the Tasmanian RFDS to provide services in the Break O'Day, George Town, Meander Valley, Glamorgan Spring Bay, Flinders Island, Dorset, Bruny Island, Tasman Peninsula and Huon Valley local government areas. These are significant geographic areas of Tasmania with populations that have the same sorts of medical needs as elsewhere in the state.


Thanks to the RFDS, they have a way to get the help they need thanks to the cadre of dedicated volunteers and medical service providers that make the RFDS the trusted and supported organisation it is today.


In return for its service to the community, the community supports RFDS just as much.


In March, the RFDS received a whopping $27,000 donation from the Tassie Hay Runners and the Tasmanian Truck Owners and Operators Association in their 60th anniversary truck run.


More recently, King Islander Kelly Lancaster, rode her Arab/Connemara cross mare Arabella, from one side of the island to another, to raise money for RFDS Tasmania.


Flanked by her daughter Sarah 13, nieces Holly 9 and Dakota Davis 7, and Amelia Poulson 11 also on horseback, the riders followed the west coast at Currie, taking the 26-kilometre ride.


The COVID-19 pandemic also provided reason for the RFDS to reexamine the way they delivered their services.


Luckily, they were already on the front foot with a number of existing programs which were remotely delivered using available technologies.


A terrific example of their innovative spirit is through the implementation of the RFDS's 'Prime Mover Program'.


The Prime Mover Program is an exercise and educational-based therapy program developed by the RFDS Tasmania's Primary health care team and is designed for people living in rural and remote areas with stable heart and lung conditions.


The aim of the program is for participants to return to an active and healthy lifestyle and to help prevent the occurrence of cardiac and pulmonary events.


For people with heart conditions, like angina or history of cardiac events, or with long-term lung conditions like bronchitis or emphysema, they have access to supervised exercise sessions which are individually tailored, receive program updates and education sessions and gain assistance to develop a healthier lifestyle to live better and longer.


The program got a boost in March with a statewide agreement with Cardihab and the Tasmanian Department of Health to enhance the digital delivery of these services.


Supported by weekly phone or video consultations with their clinicians, patients now benefit from the convenience of technology-based care right in their own homes.


Last December Her Excellency Professor Kate Warner launched a $350,000 custom-built mobile dental vehicle providing free oral health care in regional areas, with clinics to schools, aged-care facilities and the general public.

Thanks to proceeds from the Governor's Winter Ball fundraiser and major sponsorship from Woolnorth Renewables, the dental vehicle went from concept to reality.


Preventative health is yet another area in which the RFDS takes an innovative approach. Targeted education programs to our young people is one way in which the RFDS is setting Tasmania up for a health future.


An educational, interactive aeromedical plane simulator was brought to Tasmania in late 2020. The life-sized replica of the fuselage and cockpit of a Flying Doctor aircraft includes a cockpit, complete with avionics, a propeller, flight simulator and is equipped with stretchers, oxygen and communications. What better way to get children interested and engaged with rural and regional healthcare than to get them to think about their own?


Over the past 60 years, the RFDS has undeniably changed the way we think about health care in Tasmania. Nothing has highlighted this more than the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily for us, the RFDS has been ahead of the curve in health service delivery, preventative health and education, and its local focus inspires a great deal of confidence and trust. We are so lucky and should be extremely grateful for everything they do.


Rosemary Armitage, Independent Launceston MLC

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