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'Svalbard must be heard'

Gov. Kjerstin Askholt . FOTO: Hilde Røsvik

'Svalbard must be heard'

Gov. Kjerstin Askholt says nobody from Svalbard was involved in the air ambulance process.

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Askholt was first informed last Friday about a reversal in a debate about whether a jet should be approved to upgrade air ambulance capabilities.

"I believe the matter should have been dealt with both in the emergency preparedness council in Longyearbyen and possibly the Interdepartmental Polar Commission," she said. "It is regrettable that there has not been a proper process for what has happened in Longyearbyen during the past year. There are interests in Svalbard that must be heard on this issue before a final decision is made."

On Thursday, a day after Svalbardposten went to press, there was a meeting of the emergency preparedness council. Askholt said she also plans to take up the matter with the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

'May be vital'

Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen said politicians must sit down and look at why they were not involved in the process and what measures they can now take to become involved.

"It is obvious that a jet plane will strengthen the capacity of Svalbard," he said. "When we know that we have a weaker preparedness on Svalbard than is generally expected it goes without saying that this has a great value for us."

What are the possible consequences if ambulance services are not improved?

"That will be a hypothetical question," Olsen said. "There are limitations to what treatment the hospital here can give a patient. Transportation may even be crucial in terms of saving lives. It gives in itself."

Wanting flights to Tromsø
Aksel Bilicz, head of the medical department at Longyearbyen Hospital, said jet planes can often travel here even if the normal ambulance planes cannot.

"Jets also have shorter flight times and what I think is most important is that they can carry more cargo," Bilicz said. "If we need equipment or personnel (now) it is very small propeller planes that bring it."

After Northern Norway Regional Health Authority posted a message on its webpage about jets in Tromsø, he said it seemed obvious something would come of it.

"In so far as landings I wish we had a jet in Tromsø," he said.

Three instead of one
After the avalanche on Dec. 19 last year three propeller planes were immediately sent to Longyearbyen with personnel and a heart-lung machine.

"Then there was a calculation on who and what they could bring," Bilicz said. "A Swedish jet also came soon after that. It took away a patient that was connected to the heart and lung machine, and had space for health professionals on the flight."

He said he believes it was luck the hospital did not get any patients with injuries requiring surgery after the avalanche since there wasn't a surgeon present. It was also fortunate that many health care workers who ordinarily would have been on vacation were still in town.

"We got a number of patients we could handle, but we still needed to bring up special personnel and equipment," Bilicz said. "The most important thing a jet can do is to bring just that. So we must also look at preparedness, whether it is good enough. We know that it is at a minimal level."

Challenges with infants
A hypothetical example where jets can make a big difference is if children are born prematurely or babies are very sick.

"If there is a need for incubator team, a pediatrician and a nurse will come to fetch the child," Bilicz said. "They will probably not be able to do that with a normal flight during the winter."

Some injuries and conditions can also be time-critical.

"It will always be better with jets when something is urgent," Bilicz said. "Both for getting aircraft, equipment and personnel quickly, and getting quickly to a larger hospital. I would think that a jet, for example, will be able to fly directly to the burn unit at Haukeland if necessary."

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