Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard helicopters looks set to be deployed to transport critically ill patients to hospital as part of a pilot project planned for West Clare later this year.
Two weeks ago, The Clare Champion revealed preliminary discussions have been held between the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Irish Coast Guard Service and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) on the best way to utilise and co-ordinate existing resources.
While a number of issues remain to be resolved, progress has been made in putting together a proposal to airlift acute trauma victims, as a result of the negotiations organised by Clare Fianna Fáil Deputy, Timmy Dooley.
A new strategy would be employed to transport major trauma patients from isolated areas to 24-hour casualty departments via helicopter from an approved helipad, once they are treated by advanced paramedics.
Deputy Pat Breen recently tabled a Dáil question asking Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to report on discussions concerning an air ambulance service for the West Clare area.
Minister Dempsey confirmed discussions were ongoing between the three bodies regarding the possibility of an ‘aeromedical’ trial being undertaken in the West Clare area, whereby Coast Guard helicopters might be deployed in certain life-critical circumstances to assist the national HSE ambulance service. It is hoped that the trial might commence in mid-2011.
However, Mr Dempsey pointed out it was not intended that the Coast Guard would provide a normal full-time air ambulance service, known as a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS).
Under HEMS, dedicated helicopters are held on standby to deploy doctors or paramedics to treat or recover sick and injured people in response to emergency calls.
The Department maintains Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters on permanent readiness at four bases for maritime emergency response, including two on the west coast in Shannon and Sligo.
These helicopters are principally employed for marine emergencies but they are occasionally used for land-based rescue tasks where other rescue agencies require assistance, as recently witnessed during the spell of severe weather, and in remote areas where the distance to hospital and a long ambulance journey would be a significant threat to a patient.
However, the Coast Guard could not support a normal HEMS service with its SAR helicopters as this would reduce their availability for their primary task of providing helicopter marine emergency services on our coasts and waters.
“This trial will be subject to a review by both the HSE and the Coast Guard to consider its effectiveness and value. It is envisaged at this time that the additional flying hours on the Shannon Coast Guard helicopter can be accommodated within this machine’s current monthly training and operational flying allowance.
“If the West Clare trial is successful it is hoped to extend the service to other areas along the west coast,” he said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Air Ambulance Ireland (AAI) confirmed their service, which is funded through donations and voluntary subscriptions, would be put at the disposal of the HSE and would complement the proposed Coast Guard service.
The spokesman explained that initially AAI would provide a five-day service for daytime emergency covering Clare, Limerick and the South-West and this would be extended to a 24-hour facility.
He said that the AAI was in negotiations with the HSE and pledged an agreement would be reached between the two parties as to how their service would operate.
AAI has signed a new service provision contract with Bond Air Services Wales and moved a step closer to launching a rapid response helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) in Ireland.
The recently negotiated service provision contract with Bond Air Services Wales will see helicopters based where they will best integrate with the existing ambulance service network.
Air Ambulance Ireland chairman, Pat McCarthy said “Ireland is the only country in the European Union without a dedicated air ambulance service, all of which are funded voluntarily with the exception of Scotland. Air Ambulance Ireland believes air ambulances have a vital role to play in the provision of medical services in Ireland.
“Internationally, the importance of a rapid response to life-threatening situations is well established. A core belief of Air Ambulance Ireland is that patient well-being is the number one priority when responding to an incident.”
“The signing of a new service provision contract with Bond Air Services and the appointment of these two leading figures is a major endorsement of this much-needed service in Ireland and the latest of many positive recent developments that have brought Air Ambulance Ireland a step closer to full operation.”
Air Ambulance Ireland has also launched a new easy-to -egotiate website, www.airambulanceireland.net, containing information about its aims and ambitions, achievements, people, sponsors, partners, latest news, events, volunteers and endorsements by champions of the charity, including that of Kerry football legend, Paudie O’Shea.