Australia’s New South Wales Government has granted almost A$1m for a new service to help critically ill patients with respiratory problems, including those with the H1N1 influenza virus, by dispatching life-saving equipment and medical staff across the state.

The Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Medical Retrieval Service will send medical teams of anaesthetists, surgeons and intensive care staff directly to patients anywhere in the state, the government said.

The ECMO machines work by pumping blood continuously from a patient through a membrane oxygenator, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen, to support the patient’s heart and lungs.

There are currently 41 ECMO machines in the NSW Public Hospital network, of which 25 are cardiac specific and 16 are for intensive care patients with respiratory problems.