Air Ambulances

The charity seeking to provide air ambulance services in Northern Ireland and neighbouring parts of the RoI seems to be confident that it can get up and running with its service by June 2009.

The service they envisage seems quite impressive with a doctor and paramedic in addition to the helicopter crew. This seems to be a similar level of provision to that offered by the London air ambulance.

Exactly how such a system would operate here remains to be seen but certainly the charity could not be accused of lacking ambition.

  • Rory

    Any service, for it to work within the limitations of (indeed just inside the edges of) safety, for one helicopter and crew together with a doctor and paramedic would require at least two helicopters, four pilots and four co-pilots, four doctors and four paramedics and a ground crew and immediate access to a competent repair/rebuilding team simply to operate a 24-hour service.

    It would also require – even before start of operations – to have a minimum of a twelve-month anticipated prudent operating reserve and an assets replacement reserve equivalent to the cost of the delivery and on-costs of at least one helicopter.

    A job for the state I think.

  • Agreed-it is a job for the state.
    The non provison of such a service by the ROI is a scandal imo.
    If there was such a service then the centres of excellence debate would take on a new edge

  • Harry Flashman

    *A job for the state I think.*

    Absolutely, leave it to Nanny, can’t have pesky free born citizens exercising their own choices over their health care can we? I mean where would it end?

  • Cahal

    “I mean where would it end?”

    In this case, it would probably end in a long slow death in a hedge somewhere in the arsehole of Fermanagh, while waiting on an ex-soviet era helicopter with a drunk medical student from Queen’s flying it.

  • joeCanuck

    Totally agree with Rory and Phil. If there is a significant change in allocation of resources, as you have repeatedly suggested is necessary, Turgon, such an air ambulance service will play a critical role.
    It is a private service here in Canada but is heavily subsidised by the provincial governments. About 50$ is the maximum cost and many health plans cover that fairly insignificant cost.

  • steve48

    I trained as a flight medic at Seneca College in Toronto and worked for about 6 months for a private operator out of the Island airport. We used fixed wing aircraft given the sheer size of Ontario and spent a lot of time flying transfers from Florida as well as some emergency work in Ontario. The province at that time had a team of paramedics in Lear jets as well.
    I have to agree with Rory on the costs and the back up needed. These are not cheap and should only be used where the medical need is critical. The other side of the equation is given the gross underfunding of the ambulance service as compared to the fire service what improvements in service could be obtained by proper resourcing of the land based ambulance service which would give the same or better results as a helicopter service.

  • Cynic

    “In this case, it would probably end in a long slow death in a hedge somewhere in the arsehole of Fermanagh, while waiting on an ex-soviet era helicopter with a drunk medical student from Queen’s flying it.”

    Just like all the charity funded ones in GB?

    But I agree on the state funded bit. This would also help sell the essential rationalisation of A&E;units ie if you can be flown from the likes of Magherafelt or Belleek to a major trauma center in say 30 mins you will have a better chance of survival and we dont need so many ‘major’ A&E;’s which would more than pay for the aircraft

  • truth and justice

    The Health Minister does not support an air ambulance however it sounds like a good cause good luck to them!

  • Turgon

    truth and justice,
    I rarely pass up the opportunity to bash McGimpsey. There are, however, issues about an air ambulance which may make it a less good idea. I say only may as it is quite a complex issue: especially considering the relatively small size of Northern Ireland, set against the relatively complex terrain and road network, the speed of a helicopter versus the near impossibility of treating people whilst in transit. It is in all honesty a very complex issue: one far too complex to analyse in a blog, hence my brief comments. It would require a very long discussion paper.

    Cynic’s comment actually has significant validity; if this were a mechanism to gain public acceptance of the need to rationalise health services it would have considerable utility. However, since McGimpsey seems incapable of taking any significant decisions regarding reducing hospital numbers; I think your hope is unlikely to work.

  • Cynic

    Agreed on the Minister Turgon …but it really is not just about convincing people, its about what really works best.

    The present mix just doesnt deliver. Multiple Health Boards have always thought territorially. In such a small area we have an irrational system and the sad thing is that people somtimes die who could otherwise be saved.

    What’s the betting though that this lot will stand up to local vested interest? We want Grannie’s hip done locally in Ballygobackwards so its easier to visit her. She may be more likely to die but she will be happier and hey Belfast is 40 miles away.

  • There isnt a major country in europe without an air ambulance service.
    It allows casevac to major centres of excellence.
    An infrastucture of helipads exist all over NI due to the military presence.
    I cant realy see the case against this.
    i know from my time in the Mountain Rescue Team here in Donegal how invaluable a helicopter service can be in remote areas.

  • Turgon

    Phil Mac Giolla Bhain,
    There are interesting and complex issues here. Helicopters are very good ways of getting people off mountains. However, it is actually much more complex in terms of people who have accidents on roads and have sudden illnesses at home. There may be a case for helicopters but it is by no means cut and dried. You have seen their utility on mountains but that is a tiny number in absolute terms. Your causalities are also in general less sick than those a helicopter ambulance would be carrying. The problems of looking after people in helicopters are not trivial. The use of helicopters would result in a greater number of transfers: from helicopter to ambulance, to hospital (remember helipads are a little way from the hospital A+E department and the logistics of even small movements of sick people are complex).

    The issue is complex and merits careful study. That does not mean it is a bad idea but just because it sounds sensible does not by definition make it a good let alone cost effective idea.

  • Donnacha

    Down here in the arse end of the world (NZ), rescue helicopter services are a greatly valued community amenity. Funded through the health service, local authorities and the local community through direct donations, they have saved thousands of lives. They not only pluck moronic, underprepared tourists off steep-sided alps, but motor vehicle accident victims as well. The helicopters are run regionally and the one I had most to do with had two full-time pilots, a roster of 12 trained chopper nurses, a back-up/relief pilot and two choppers operating form the local major hospital. Beyond priceless, they are well-regarded locally and amass a good chunkj of funding from direct donations. They are also an excellent way of transporting serious trauma victims to specialist hospitals in jig-time, greatly increasing survival chances. I know three people personally who wouldn’t be here without the rescue helicopter service and I am amazed and appalled that there are no such services in Ireland. Good on the charity and if a small country like NZ can support a network of resuce helicopters, surely Ireland can as well.

  • kevin Taylor

    This is an amovite issue here in N.I. as we see A&Es being closed and the service not there to promote the rapid intervention and transfer off people to the new trauma centre in Belfast
    the whole service is not as costly nor as comlocated as peole detractors like to make it out and it is about time that the powers that be took on the role off allowing a charity to run a succesful air ambulance service in N.I if you want to see how not to do check the Scottish service fully managed by the Scottish N.H.S and provided privatly and fell apart two years early and has to be retendered and a ten year contact cost $40 million