THE Shoalhaven has taken delivery of three new intensive care ambulances described by local paramedics as "game changers".
The new vehicles have all the same capabilities as normal ambulances, but are upgraded with more than $100,000 in specialised equipment, making them one of the most advanced medical tools on the road.
Two of the new vehicles are based at the Bomaderry Ambulance Station and a third is based at Ulladulla.
All three vehicles are on the road in service, and while they carry the extra specialist intensive care equipment, they are also used as an everyday ambulance as well.
Special Operation Intensive Care Paramedic Andrew Kinross, who is one of a dozen Shoalhaven-based personnel who can operate the new vehicles described them as a "game changer".
"They are virtually an intensive care unit on wheels," he said.
"This is a huge win for the community. It is just fantastic.
"I've been a paramedic for 20 years and this sort of facility has never been regional. It has always been a city-based thing. So to finally have it in this area and available to our community is sensational.
"How are we any less important than metropolitan areas?
"In terms of patients, I have family myself in this area, and I know getting this capability is a huge win."
He said with the region being so big and its hospitals spread out, nowhere near as close as those in the cities, having these ambulances in the Shoalhaven was fantastic.
"We are a big area and we have some very remote areas, so having three intensive care ambulances available is fantastic," he said.
They are virtually an intensive care unit on wheels. This is a huge win for the community.Special Operation Intensive Care Paramedic Andrew Kinross
"It really is like having a mobile intensive care unit on wheels."
The ambulances are manned by intensive care paramedics, which is the highest level of training in NSW Ambulance and the country
"If anything good has come out of COVID we have got a huge injection of funding to the ambulance service to try and combat it and ensure we have the equipment we need to treat such patients," he said.
There are now close to 70 intensive care ambulances across the state.
The ambulances come with a swathe of new equipment including intraosseous infusion for adults, video laryngoscope for intubation, a stretcher bridge for monitors, syringe drivers and a Lucas mechanical CPR device, among other advances.
"This sort of equipment is fantastic, certainly many things we never had before," Andrew said.
"The intraosseous access for adults, is basically a drill which allows us to get access into a bone to give drugs and fluids if we can't get intravenous access. Previously that was only available for children - that's a big step forward.
"The video laryngoscope for intubation has really only ever been used in aeromedical in the past. Simply, it is a video guide used to intubate someone. Before we had old style laryngoscopes that had no screen, we had to visually do it.
"This is a lot less invasive and we don't have to be as close to the patients, so it's great for patient and paramedic safety with COVID. A huge step forward.
"The stretcher bridge is something we've never had before and gives us somewhere for our monitor and the syringe driver gives us a more accurate infusion to patients.
"A new airway kit, with all advanced airway equipment has also been positioned at the head of the stretcher, while CPAP respirators are available for patients, which is crucial with many COVID patients."
But Andrew said the biggest "game changer' has been the introduction of the Lucas machine, a mechanical CPR device.
"Nowadays CPR is the mainstay of resuscitation," he said.
"It's the absolute priority and this device does CPR mechanically for hours on end. There is no fatigue for paramedics and actually frees up another paramedic to treat the patient.
"If we are extricating a patient out of a house or enroute in an ambulance it can be hard to do CPR in the moving vehicle or while carrying someone out of a house, this will just continue the whole time until you tell it not to."
The depth and rate can be adapted for adults or children.
The machine is worth around $28,000 and according to Andrew has already proved its worth, "bringing a patient back" on its first outing.
"Sydney has had these on line longer than we have and they have been getting good results," he said.
"We hope, eventually this sort of machine will be on all cars. That would be great.
"It's a huge win for the community."
To man the vehicles the 12 Shoalhaven intensive care paramedics have undergone extra training.
There are currently around 500 ICPs across the state among the service's 5000 paramedics.
"Only around 40 ICP are trained statewide each year - it's a six month course," Andrew said.
"We are fortunate to have a dozen or so in the Shoalhaven and while most are based at Bomaderry we can be allocated anywhere at anytime.
"Of course, some are also attached to the rescue truck, but we all do normal paramedics' duties as well."
And in further good news for the area there are hopes of having an ICP training module established in the Shoalhaven.
"It would give local paramedics the chance to train up to intensive care paramedic level and stay locally, which they be never had before," he said.
The three Shoalhaven units will complement four units in the Illawarra, based at Oak Flats, Wollongong and Bulli.
And of course, the Toll NSW Ambulance Rescue Helicopter that is based at Albion Park, which also carries a doctor on board.