Health Minister Dario Nakic on Wednesday expressed support for the establishment of an emergency helicopter service, noting that he had already discussed this with Defence Minister Josip Buljevic and had appointed a task force to prepare that project on behalf of both ministries.

Nakic received a delegation who presented him with a petition signed by 12,000 citizens calling for the continuation of the Emergency Helicopter Service (HHMS) which they had previously also presented to Parliament Speaker Zeljko Reiner.

Minister Nakic told reporters that he too would sign the petition, underscoring that he was not against the HHMS but rather objected to the disadvantageous contract signed with an Italian company for the recent pilot-project for an emergency helicopter service and presented reporters with a copy of the contract.

"I have absolutely nothing against an emergency helicopter service, on the contrary, we are already looking for a way to organise it," Nakic said. He claimed that the contract signed with the Italian company determined that one helicopter could transport people who weighed up to 98 kilograms while another could carry people weighing up to 90 kilograms. These helicopters could not fly at night or in bad weather conditions so the defence ministry's (MORH) helicopters had to be called in for emergency situations.

"We have to find a solution that will secure a complete, quality service and ensure conditions that are acceptable with regard to quality, finances and organisation," he said.

Asked to comment on claims by Assistant Health Minister Miljenko Bura, who was in charge of the pilot project, that the criticisms were a political game and that the use of MORH helicopters was more expensive and cost around HRK 80,000 for each intervention, Nakic said that he wanted to decide on the best option.

"I spoke to Bura briefly and welcomed the idea of setting up an emergency service. I will certainly not choose an option that would be more expensive. We paid HRK 11.5 million for the helicopters and medical services during the four months of the pilot-project, and a new helicopter of that kind costs HRK 28 to HRK 30 million, and that does not seem to be a favourable contract to me," he said.

Presenting the petition, Mladen Turecek of the Traffic Safety Association underscored the importance of the HHMS for rural areas and the islands, claiming that speed, efficiency and availability were some of the most important advantages that prompted the petitioners to support the continuation of the HHMS's work.

He added that the minister's objection about the helicopters not flying in bad weather was a matter connected to the Aviation Law and that the contract that Nakic showed reporters referred only to the pilot project. The carrying capacity of the helicopters is much greater, Turecek claimed, adding that they can practically carry 14 people at 100 kilograms each.

"In small towns and on the islands, often one doctor covers a large area. Large heliports currently exist only in Split and Zagreb and MORH helicopters therefore cannot provide medical assistance within the so-called golden hour and we already have a project with five bases that can cover all of Croatia," Turecek said.

Hungary has five bases for its emergency helicopter service which cost ten million euro and are operational 365 days a year. Our estimate is that 9 million euro would be sufficient for Croatia, Turecek added.

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