On the 28th of June 1998 in a joint venture with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, AMS undertook the first rural health outreach flight to Matatiele Hospital (on border of the Eastern Cape) on this day, the ‘Flying Doctor Service’ in KZN was born.
The only member of the original team that started the programme is Kogie Naidoo, who is still at the helm and growing this service from strength to strength. The Flying Doctor Service now boasts two permanent aircrafts and a ground unit that goes out daily to support outlying health facilities with specialists and scarce resources that is needed. Healthcare practitioners are sourced from the Provincial Departments of Health, doctors in private practice, religious groups and other non-governmental organizations or wherever the required expertise is offered. Currently, AMS Kwa-Zulu Natal is supporting 44 hospitals with specialists every month and more than 20 000 indigent patients are the beneficiaries of the outreach programme through direct medical interventions. The 3 500 healthcare practitioners that are recipients of capacity building efforts annually, continue to increase the quality of healthcare in the system to benefit much more patients than the conservative figures quoted. The daily teams that fly out, depending on the need may include general and specialist surgeons, ophthalmologists and optometrists, pediatricians, physicians, ENT’s, psychiatrists, psychologists, obstetricians and gynaecologists, dermatologists, anaesthetists, orthopaedic appliances and many more.
Emergency aero-medical services contracted to the KZN Department of Health specifically the Emergency Medical and Rescue Services (EMRS) is relatively new. In the past three years a service has been tailored to meet the needs of the province, with the KZN EMRS providing the medical expertise and equipment and AMS providing the Aircrafts, Pilots and logistical support including training of DOH staff. The aero-medical system comprises of two AS 350 B2 (squirrel) helicopters and a PC12 Pilatus Airplane exclusively for emergency medical responses. Here again the limited Advanced Life Support (ALS) human resources are spread throughout the province with the use of the aircrafts. Statistics over the 2007/8 year indicated that more than 860 patients was evacuated with the aero-medical system with more than 1300 flown in a combined total. This 24-hour service is set to grow into extended hours of operations (for helicopters) and also include rescue services in future.
The KwaZulu-Natal operations have much to be proud of, during the last year we have with our partners in health (KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health) started the implementation of the second phase of helicopter night flying with Night Vision Goggles (NVG’s), rekindled the Pilot Development Programme, provided greater structure and refined the outreach system, re-established a strategic planning forum, consolidated a local management team and increased the efficiency of services we have jointly provided.