Air Corps put on call to carry organs needed for transplants
THE Irish Air Corps is expected to be deployed to transport organs, or patients who need to travel, for urgent transplant operations that could be put at risk by the closure of Irish air space.
Talks are taking place between the Department of Defence and the HSE about using the Army's air unit for transportation relating to organ transplants and other potential emergencies.
The Irish Air Corps is already employed to bring organs retrieved from Irish donors back to national transplant centres in Dublin.
It is understood that the Department of Defence could seek a derogation to fly at low-altitude beneath the volcanic plume in an emergency while Irish air space remains closed.
A HSE spokesman said: "Talks are ongoing between the HSE and the Department of Defence through the Government Taskforce to put in place some mechanism to transport organs as the situations arise."
Many organ transplant patients could be affected if the air travel disruption continues, as is expected, over the coming week.
More than 600 people in Ireland are believed to be awaiting life-saving transplant operations, a small number of whom could be required to travel at short notice to the UK should suitable organs become available.
Most transplant organs are taken from Irish donors and most transplant operations are performed in the country. However, both St Vincent's Hospital, which performs liver transplants, and the Mater Hospital, which performs heart and lung transplants, have agreements with hospitals in the UK should suitable organs become available.
The head of the Irish Kidney Association, Mark Murphy, said in March that cystic fibrosis patients in Ireland were more likely to have to travel to the UK for lung transplants.
He also pointed out that Ireland relied almost entirely on UK expertise in transplantation programmes for children.
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More than 243 organ transplants took place in Ireland last year.
Across Europe, organs for transplants were moved on the ground to destinations within driving distance.
Nadine Koerner, a spokeswoman for the German Foundation for Organ Transplant, reportedly said yesterday that "hearts, lungs and livers, which are normally transported by air, are now delivered regionally by ground travel".
The Mater said none of its patients had been affected by the flight ban yesterday.
Most of its patients are treated in Ireland and transported to the facility by ambulance.
Meanwhile, President Mary McAleese has had to cancel plans to attend the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski today because of the problems caused by the airborne ash.
The Air Corps took the decision that it was unsafe to fly Ms McAleese to Poland for the funeral of the president who died in an air crash in Russia last weekend.