A former SnowyHydro SouthCare helicopter fund chairman has accused the CareFlight medical service of misleading Canberrans by seeking donations for a service that does not cover the ACT.
Long-held concerns that the charity wrongly implies its fundraising benefits the ACT's Snowy Hydro SouthCare Rescue Helicopter have intensified as the region's new areo-medical service is entirely government-funded.
CareFlight letters sent to Canberrans on April 26 describe how its helicopter would take care of "you and your loved ones" if they needed to be flown to hospital. It says the charity flies all over Australia.
But the service has never been contracted to service the Canberra region. A spokesman for the charity pointed to its neonatal service that flies Canberrans to Westmead Hospital in Sydney. But this service ends this month and will be taken over by the Toll Group, which does not take community donations.
The CareFlight spokesman said Canberrans' money benefits the ACT because it funds the charity's "MediSim" training in the southern NSW and ACT region. The training's 2017 schedule shows the course, which helps emergency service volunteers quickly respond to trauma, does not run in the ACT. The spokesman said NSW sessions have included participants from Canberra but did not provide attendance numbers. An Emergency Service Agency ACT spokesman said there was no organisational link between its service and CareFlight.
Former chair of the SnowyHydro SouthCare Helicopter Fund, Len Goodman, said CareFlight's behaviour was deceitful.
Mr Goodman was chair of the fund from 1998 to 2006 and a special ambassador until this year.
"Over those 18 years, I have challenged CareFlight on these issues without success, with them consistently claiming legitimately from being very infrequently called in as a backup [to the SnowyHydro helicopter]," Mr Goodman said.
"But, tell that to very many Canberra pensioners who bought Care Bears believing their widow's mite [money] was to support SnowyHydro SouthCare.
"Many people who I spoke to about this became very upset when they learned the truth.
"A lot of people are concerned about this."
He said the most recent "blatant intrusion into the good nature of Canberra residents," referring to the April letter, was most concerning given the new ACT region's new aero-medical arrangements.
The Toll Group won contracts with the ACT and NSW governments for the emergency helicopter service in the entire southern region of NSW, including the ACT, from April this year.
Under the contract, an Agusta-Westland 139 replaced the Snowy Hydro SouthCare Rescue Helicopter, known as Charlie, which had served the Canberra region for 35 years.
A NSW Ambulance Service aircraft carrying a CareFlight doctor would occasionally be called in for back-up when the SnowyHydro Southcare helicopter was already on a job.
However, the CareFlight helicopter does not do hospital transfers or rescue operations with the Toll Group.
Snowy Hydro's 15-year naming-rights sponsorship of the service delivered more than $7 million in sponsorship.
In 2016, CareFlight received more than $4.4 million in sponsorship and donation revenue. A spokesman would not say how much of this was raised from the ACT.
"Fundraising supports CareFlight operations all over Australia," the spokesman said.
"As a not-for-profit charity reliant on community fundraising, we will continue to provide services via CareFlight doctors on Ambulance NSW helicopters and CareFlight MediSim emergency first responder training, to the people of Southern NSW and the ACT region."
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