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Return Transport Service

  • The transport team and transport platforms


    • a neonatal intensive care trained nurse
    • a qualified patient transport driver
    • three specially designed vehicles to accommodate up to three babies


    • a neonatal intensive care trained nurse
    • a paramedic and pilot
    • a pressurized, fixed-wing aircraft (Air Ambulance Victoria or occasionally, commercial aircraft)

    PIPER return transfer service van

    PIPER RTS van

    PIPER return transport nurses

    PIPER RTS team

    Loading cots into return transfer service van

    PIPER back of transport vehicle

    Who can utilize this service?

    Medical and nursing staff in all special and intensive care nurseries can utilise this service, including specialist paediatric wards. Babies are transferred from public and private Level 2 and 3 hospitals to hospitals throughout metropolitan Melbourne, regional Victoria and at times interstate

    Criteria for using this service

    Road return

    • Any self-ventilating baby weighing less than 6kg
    • Distances up to 180 kilometers from the central business district of Melbourne

    Air return

    • Any baby weighing less than 6kg
    • Distances over 160 kilometers, the transfer is carried out by Air Ambulance Victoria in fixed wing aircraft

    How to organise a return transfer

    PIPER can be contacted by telephone on 1300 659 803 prior to or on the preferred date of transfer. Relevant details of the baby are documented with the proposed date of transfer.

    Road return

    PIPER will advise each of the referring and receiving hospitals the planned time of arrival on the morning of the day of transfer once the days itinerary has been finalised.

    Air return

    Details of the baby are faxed to Air Ambulance Victoria (AAV). Once AAV have finalised their itinerary PIPER is contacted with the estimated time of departure (ETD) from Essendon airport. AAV organise an ambulance to take the PIPER nurse/incubators/other equipment from PIPER to the referring hospital and the baby is then transferred to the airport. AAV also organise an ambulance to transfer the baby and PIPER nurse to the receiving hospital. AAV usually require one day’s notice.

    PIPER aeroplane

    PIPER helicopter

    Care of a baby during return transfer



    For all return transfers, available equipment includes:

    • Incubators with safety harness
    • 12 volt / 240 volt leads
    • Saturation monitor
    • Cardio-respiratory monitor
    • BP monitor
    • Blood Glucose monitor - Oxygen analyser
    • Syringe pump
    • Oxygen cylinder, flow meters low/high
    • Suction unit
    • Equipment bags including resuscitation equipment
    • Observation charts folder
    • Esky to hold expressed breast milk (fresh/frozen) / freezers in specialised return vehicles
    • Mobile phone

    Clinical management of neonate

    • Observations ½ hourly
    • Continuous saturation monitoring
    • Babies are not fed during a road transfer but may be fed during a long interstate air return when aircraft is at maximum altitude and well before descent and landing
    • Baby is given supplementary oxygen as required

    Safety during return transfer

    All equipment in PIPER return van is secured safely.

    • Stretchers are secured in return transport van by stretcher locking device
    • Metropolitan Ambulance Service (MAS) ambulances: incubators are secured with safety straps x 4 and a large safety belt
    • Fixed wing aircraft: incubators are secured with seat belts
    • Incubators are checked by Biomedical Engineering on a regular basis

    Interstate transfers

    Contact PIPPER preferably a week prior to requested date of transfer

    Infection control

    • Each return vehicle and return bag have antimicrobial hang gel solution
    • Incubators are washed with advice from Infection Control
    • Expressed breast milk is double bagged and labelled

    Parent accompanying a baby

    The PIPER return van can accommodate one parent (this needs to be discussed with PIPER staff).

    Parents may travel by air but this is at the discretion of Air Ambulance Victoria. Parents are required to make their own way to the airport, and there is limited space for luggage so only up to 5kg may be taken.

    Transport of expressed breast milk (EBM)

    The PIPER return vehicle is equipped with a freezer for frozen EBM. An esky with ice packs is used to transport fresh EBM which is also double bagged.

    The temperature of the esky and freezer may be monitored using a computerised digital thermometer from which the readings can be downloaded at the end of each day to ensure quality control.

    Only 24 hours supply of EBM may be transported with Air Ambulance.

    Costs associated with road transfer

    PIPER charges per kilometer for travel in the road vehicle.

    The referring hospital is billed.

    The charges remain below those of alternative transport organisations who are unable to provide a specialist neonatal nurse to supervise/monitor the baby.

    Costs associated with air transfers (Air Ambulance Victoria – AAV)

    PIPER charges the referring hospital a nominal cost for transfer and AAV also charge the referring hospital.