Sunday 15 September 2019

Busy first month for air ambulance as charity-led service responds to 56 calls since launch

Captain John Murray, centre with crew Paul Traynor and Brian O'Callaghan pictured with the Charity Air Ambulance at Rathcoole Aerodrome in North County Cork. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Captain John Murray, centre with crew Paul Traynor and Brian O'Callaghan pictured with the Charity Air Ambulance at Rathcoole Aerodrome in North County Cork. Photo: Don MacMonagle

Ralph Riegel

IRELAND'S first charity air ambulance will save hundreds of lives by slashing transfer times to hospitals for acute care.

The vow came as it emerged the Helicopter Emergency Medical  Service (HEMS) has responded to an average of two calls a day over its first 30 days in service.

The Cork-based service will respond to 500 calls per year and bring a rural population of 10,000 square miles south of Galway and Dublin to within 20 minutes of critical medical attention.

It will operate in conjunction with the Athlone-based Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS).

Tánaiste Simon Coveney launched HEMS which was inspired over a decade ago by Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) founder, John Kearney, who was deeply moved by the death of a six year old daughter of a friend in Cork.

The critically ill six year old girl had turned to her mother and said: "I don't want to die."

Tragically, doctors were unable to save her.

Now, the HEMS service aims to ensure patients get to hospital in a matter of minutes rather than after a transfer of more than an hour.

In the case of one Glengarriff call-out, the patient was successfully transferred to hospital in 20 minutes rather than 80 minutes.

"Today is the fulfilment of a dream for so many of us," Mr Kearney said.

The value of the Cork-based service was underlined by its first 'live' operation five weeks ago.

Liam O'Riordan from north Cork was a dedicated fundraiser for the charity service - and unwittingly became its first transfer patient.

Liam was working on a ladder at this home when he lost his footing and fell, badly injuring his back and spine.

"I knew the air ambulance service would be valuable but I never thought I'd be the first to use it myself," he laughed.

"But I am so glad that it was there to help me when I needed it."

Liam, who is wearing a special back brace, was transferred by the Agusta helicopter from the Rathcool Airfield base to Cork University Hospital (CUH) in just seven minutes.

The air ambulance is operated by a team of 10 specialist personnel, two pilots and eight paramedics and emergency medical technicians.

It will operate 365 days a year but only in daylight hours.

The helicopter is provided by Sloan Choppers.

To support the service, some €2m must be raised each year by the charity and its supporters.

"Lives have already been saved and will continue to be saved by the service," Mr Kearney said.

Since 2008, ICRR has developed a network of 250 land-based volunteer doctors and ten rapid response vehicles to assist with emergency medical support.

The HEMS air ambulance is being operated by Irish Community Rapid Response

(ICRR) in partnership with the HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) and Department of Health.

It is integrated within the 999/112 call system.

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