Non-emergency medical flight provider Angel Flight is working on a transport initiative it believes is already making a difference to the rural doctor crisis in Australia.
The group, which is celebrating its 20 year milestone and closing in on 60,000 flights, has been flying health professionals to and from rural placements for around 12 months, and doing the same for medical students for two years, thanks to a partnership with independent healthcare provider Ochre Health.
Angel Flight CEO Marjorie Pagani said they'd identified that the time it was taking people to get to rural postings, plus the uncertainty surrounding roads being cut, were barriers to medical professionals taking up positions in the bush, even as a locum.
"We've been taking allied health people to Cunnamulla in western Queensland, because they were having to fly from Bundaberg to Brisbane to Charleville and then hire a car and drive, all for a three-day placement," she said.
The flooding in parts of the country has also meant that doctors sent to rural locations that only have road access found themselves cut off, and Ms Pagani said they were now requiring a guarantee that they could leave when their time was up, before they took a posting on.
As a result, Angel Flight has been working with Ochre on making the rural lifestyle more attractive, adding guaranteed direct flights to a job description that includes a house, a good wage, and no displacement of any family they may have at their home location.
The organisation is now asking for government assistance for the first time in its 20 years of operation.
"Our aim is to put a seven-seater Vision jet in each capital city plus Cairns," Ms Pagani said.
"To do that we require an equal contribution of $2m from the federal government and each state government, which Angel Flight would match.
"We're not making a profit, we're not paying wages, and this wouldn't cut across charter operations - we've identified these people don't use them.
"This is about looking at the big picture - we've been filling the gap in health care for our country friends in need but we can't keep doing it without government help.
"It's goal-specific and thinks outside the box to tackle the medical professional shortage."
The jets would be on standby for Angel Flight's normal work of volunteer pilots transporting people to non-emergency medical treatment, which operates as usual, and would also ferry medical students to placements.
Ms Pagani said they'd done a test run in South Australia on flying students, who were reluctant to take up rural placements because of the distance and cost involved, and she said they were now happy to give it a go.
"We take six at a time," she said. "Once they get there they love it, and say they'd be happy to go to rural places to work - it's just the transport that's the barrier."
The organisation is now hoping to work with James Cook University in North Queensland, and others, on similar schemes, if a dedicated jet was available.
Angel Flight is working towards obtaining an Air Transport Operator's licence, which will mean its safety standards would be the same as commercial airlines.
Ms Pagani said she appreciated that governments would be wanting that in return for funding.
She's had no response from governments at this stage.
Angel Flight has also been stepping into the breach left by the closure of a number of country air routes by Rex Airlines, most notably to the South Australian towns of Mount Gambier, Whyalla, Port Lincoln and Ceduna, but also from Bamaga at Queensland's northern tip.
Other locations impacted from May 1 include Broken Hill and Wagga Wagga in NSW, and the route from Mildura to Adelaide has also been suspended.
Rex has said the decision was unavoidable due to pilot, engineer and parts shortages. It hasn't said whether the cuts are short or long-term.
Ms Pagani said Angel Flight's volunteer pilots were now transporting people who would have been Rex passengers that require medical treatment.
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