CareFlight has recorded the highest number of patients its aeromedical crews have cared for in a single year, a review of 2023 statistics has revealed.

The Australian aeromedical charity transported more than 9,600 patients in 2023 across its services.

The largest number of patients helped were in the Northern Territory, where CareFlight is the lead aeromedical service provider across the vast Top End region, which spans more than 600,000 square kilometres.

The 2023 full-year figures showed CareFlight conducted 7,900 patient retrievals in the Top End. The diverse nature of NT missions ranged from the infrequent, such as helicopter winch retrieval of a patient suffering an Irukandji sting, to many serious life-threatening medical episodes in locations hundreds of kilometres from the nearest hospital. The majority of patients are Firsts Nations peoples living in some of Australia’s most remote communities.

As well as working hand in hand with NT Government operating the Top End Medical Retrieval Service, the Interstate Emergency Jet Medevacs and Interhospital Road Transfers, activities spanned search and rescue for AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority), and lifesaving aeromedical support for Defence services.  

CareFlight’s Northern operations contrast with those in the urban environment of the Sydney-based Mounties Care CareFlight Helicopter. The Rapid Response Service can land in built up areas the size of a tennis court, close to the patients and commence treatment before moving the patient to the hospital. Last year, the helicopter was tasked on average more than seven times a week for lifesaving missions, often landing on busy major roads, sporting grounds and at beaches to help seriously injured patients.

One example was that of Madelaine Hart, a soon-to-be mother from a remote community on Elcho Island. Madelaine found herself in a critical situation when she unexpectedly went into early labour. Thanks to the swift response of CareFlight and local Elcho Island clinic staff, Madelaine was airlifted to hospital in the care of a CareFlight specially trained flight nurse and midwife. Today, Madelaine and her newborn are healthy and thriving.

Madelaine Hart expressed her gratitude: “I don’t know what would have happened without CareFlight. They were there when we needed them most, and because of them, my baby and I are happy and healthy today.”

CareFlight’s fixed wing Patient Transport Service in NSW, which last year marked five years serving regional and rural communities in Northern NSW, also conveyed hundreds of patients to major hospitals for vital care in 2023.

Emergency missions undertaken by CareFlight’s interstate and international jet medevac services, staffed by CareFlight’s specially trained flight nurses and doctors, contributed to the record year.

Reflecting on the reports, CareFlight CEO Mick Frewen said it was encouraging that the team were able to help more people than ever before.

“It is no surprise that the figures reflect our crews have been busy, particularly in the Top End where, with thanks to the support of the Northern Territory and Federal Governments, our many partner agencies and the community more widely, we’ve been able to reach and treat more people wherever they are.”

In the Top End, CareFlight operates Australia’s only fully integrated civil aeromedical service with all doctors, nurses, pilots, engineers, logistics and support staff working together on the organisation’s helicopters, turbo-prop and jet aircraft, supported by ground support vehicles. The services are run from bases in Darwin and Nhulunbuy, on behalf of the Northern Territory Government. In September 2023 CareFlight received Federal Government funding to expand its fleet in the Northern Territory, with an additional helicopter and jet now entering service.

Reflecting on 2023, Sarah Mackney, Deputy Medical Director at CareFlight Top End, highlighted:

“I extend my gratitude and thanks to the entire team— from the dedicated support staff and skilled engineers who ensure the operational readiness of our diverse fleet, encompassing helicopters, turbo prop, and jet aircraft, to our team of committed clinicians,” she said.

“We are also incredibly grateful to our invaluable partners whose unwavering support has been instrumental in expanding our reach and enhancing our ability to provide critical care to patients, regardless of their location. CareFlight plays a pivotal role within a complex network of lifesaving services in the Top End.”

Read more about CareFlight’s services in Australia