PEOPLE in regional communities rely on the likes of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), especially in places where they lack specialist medical help.
While nobody wants to hear the roar of a plane engine or thwack of helicopter propellers landing on a rural property to pick somebody up, everyone is relieved it is there if needed.
But like everybody, 2020 was a very different year for all aeromedical retrieval groups, as significant drop-offs were followed by major spikes in call-outs due to lockdowns.
Researches at the RFDS, University of South Australia (Uni SA), University of Western Australia, University of Melbourne and Department of Rural Health in SA, WA and Queensland were involved in a study which showed the difficulties faced by retrieval teams in the first half of last year.
The year was broken down into three categories: pre-lockdown (28 January to 15 March 2020); lockdown (16 March to 4 May 2020) and post-lockdown (5 May to 23 June 2020). These numbers were then compared to the same timeframes in 2019.
Pre-lockdown retrievals were slightly higher in 2020, while the other two periods were less busy than the year before. However, post-lockdown actually had the most amount of callouts, with 5933 people requiring help as opposed to 5927 in the time leading up to mid-March.
The most obvious difference was seen during lockdown though, with just 5121 retrievals being required in 2020 - 1119 less than in the same time a year before.
Another noteworthy statistic is what teams were called out for, with heart patients comprising 18 per cent of the evacuations, injuries accounting for 16 per cent and diseases of the digestive system 9 per cent.
Only six confirmed COVID-19 patients were among those that required help, although 230 were suspected as having contracted the virus.
"It should be noted that none of the areas where these suspected COVID cases were evacuated had pathology testing services," said RFDS director of public health and research, Dr Fergus Gardiner.
Fewer cancer patients were evacuated but retrievals increased significantly once the social isolation measures were lifted.
"Many oncologists within Australia only performed essential treatments during the lockdown, mainly because their cancer patients were more immunocompromised and leaving their homes would have left them more exposed to infection," said Uni SA's Dr Marianne Gillam.
"Oncologists had to weigh the risks of death from COVID-19 against the benefits of cancer therapy and these risks are amplified during aeromedical retrieval."
With almost 17,000 aeromedical retrievals required in just half of 2020, it is abundantly clear how crucial the responsible organisations are to the health of people in regional areas.