The saga of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance continues. The BBC has an article on the story suggesting that 90% of the £700,000 raised has gone on salaries and administration. This was initially denied but later confirmed by the charity which also has an explanation of its funding on its web site.
Mr. Gwyn Beattie MB BCh Bao MRCS, Clinical Director at Ireland Air Ambulance (IAA) said:
IAA has always been completely transparent about all aspects of its operations and publishes its audited financial results on its website. As the only region in the UK without Air Ambulance cover we continue to find great support for our plans to provide a service for the region. Like any charity or organisation, we anticipated that start-up costs in the first trading years would be high. In our first year, 90% of income was spent on operational costs such as salaries, premises, travel expenses, professional fees. In the last three months this figure has been reduced to 68% and we expect it to fall much further still in coming years.
The Health minister Michael McGimpsey said:
“There have been attempts to discover a protocol or a way forward but to date the proposers for the ambulance have not been able to satisfy the health service as to how this ambulance would operate,”
“Frankly, I am bemused that this is progressing the way it is progressing. We are collecting money for an ambulance helicopter that, as far as I am aware, there has been no order placed for, there has been no understanding created for, and actually when I look hard at it, there is no real need for it. The proposed helicopter that you are talking about operates only in good weather and in daylight. The maritime agency will provide us with a helicopter in all weathers, day and night, throughout the year so that is our prime resource in the event of needing a helicopter. Currently, the demand according to the ambulance service is not there.”
Mr Carr from the Ireland Air Ambulance charity has agreed that if the NHS does not avail of the service it could be a white elephant. However, if the air ambulance arrives it is likely that there will be public and political pressure to have it integrated into health care here. That then raises the question of whether or not the running costs would be able to be fully met by the charity and if not whether the NHS will end up being pressurised to fund a service which may not be necessary. The potential problem of the aircraft being unable to fly in bad weather or at night also seems a significant issue as does McGimpsey’s suggestion that helicopters are already available when necessary.