COMMUNITY leaders are prepared for another long battle if necessary over a proposal to axe the Illawarra's only aeromedical helicopter.
An independent review by Ernst & Young indicated that the government could save millions of dollars each year by moving the Albion Park-based helicopter to Sydney and cutting helicopters at other bases, without "significantly affecting" response times to patients.
Controversy has previously dogged the helicopter service. The community mounted a widespread campaign to save the chopper service in the Illawarra after the Coniston-based Southern Region Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service's contract was axed in 2005.
The state government awarded a contract to CHC to run the service from the Illawarra Regional Airport; a service now under threat.
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said the community, which fought for a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service in Wollongong, and were successful in 2008, would be prepared to do so again to keep it.
"Discussions have started about a strong voice for the region to tell the government it needs to take its hands off our chopper," he said.
"We have fought a long battle before and prepared to do it again. The cost of lives is too great to bear for our region."
Andrew Ryan, base manager of the Wollongong Helicopter Base, said: "Every five years the ambulance service asks independent organisations to look at the functionality and efficiency of the services we provide to the community.
"Recommendations have been made that the Ambulance Service now has to consult with community and stakeholders of those services to determine the impact."
The government will release its response to the review once the formal submission period closes in February.
Member for Shellharbour, Anna Watson, slammed the recommendation, labelling it "flimsy, ad-hoc and cavalier". She urged Health Minister Jillian Skinner to reject it outright.