Flying Doctors of Switzerland

April 27, 2012, No comments

Courtesy of Rega

It’s the best deal in Switzerland: 30 francs a year for medical air rescue anywhere in the world. All thanks to Rega, which is 60 this year. Ever since 27 April 1952, it has been helping thousands of people after walking and skiing accidents, avalanches and illnesses, and even newborn babies. And today it added one more patron to its 2.38 million – me! I’m not planning on ever using Rega’s services, but my support helps make it possible for the wonderful work to continue. So why not become a patron too? You never know who it will help.

The Swiss Air-Rescue is a non-profit organisation that was the brainchild of Dr Rudolf Bucher. It’s a very Swiss idea – a rescue service that follows the principles of the Red Cross to help anyone in need regardless of race, nationality, religion or status – but right from the beginning it had international links: the first rescue parachutists were trained by the RAF in Abingdon and two crucial early missions were after natural disasters in the Netherlands and Austria. These days it carries out about 14,000 missions a year, most by helicopter within Switzerland, including 1,200 missions to help farmers with cow emergencies. That’s right – if a Swiss farmer has family cover, it includes his cows up in the high pastures during the summer.

The name most Swiss people use, Rega, comes from a contraction of the different translations of its long name: “RE” from “REttungsflugwacht” in German and “GA” from “Garde Aérienne” and “Guardia Aerea” in French and Italian. Rega is a lot easier to say! It’s funded primarily by patrons’ contributions, which means that Rega waives the costs of missions carried out for patrons (providing that these costs are not covered by insurance), whether that’s a helicopter rescue after a hiking fall or repatriation by air ambulance from abroad.  Of course within Switzerland anyone in need is helped or rescued, even if they aren’t patrons, but then the costs are not normally waived by Rega.

You can also be a patron as a tourist. In that case, when you are in Switzerland you enjoy all the benefits granted to patrons relating to air rescue within Swiss national borders (eg transport to the nearest hospital), but not repatriation flights. They are only available to patrons who are permanently resident in Switzerland (irrelevant of their nationality) and to Swiss nationals living abroad.

If you want to know more about Rega, the its website is packed with information (in English as well as German, French and Italian) or you can go along to its open days this weekend at Zurich airport. Or you can give Rega a great birthday present and become a patron. It may just save your life one day. Or someone else’s. All for the price of two cinema tickets.

Happy 60th Birthday to the Flying Doctors of Switzerland!

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