The helipad at the Royal Victoria Hospital may not be ready for the North West 200 next summer, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has admitted.
It was confirmed in March this year that an air ambulance for Northern Ireland - currently the only region in the UK without such a service - will inherit the call sign of the tragic motorcyclist doctor who campaigned for the service before his death.
Dr John Hinds, known as one of the “flying doctors” of Irish motorcycle sport, was a vocal advocate for a medical helicopter to transport the seriously sick and injured to hospital.
Health Minister Michelle O’Neil said that it wasn’t possible “at this stage” to confirm if the helipad on the roof of the Royal Victoria Hospital’s critical care centre would be ready for the North West 200 this summer.
Responding to a query from DUP MLA Paul Frew, Mrs O’Neill said: “It is not possible, at this stage, to confirm if the helipad on the roof of the Critical Care Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital will be fully operational for the NW200 event in May 2017. NIAS are still completing the business case for the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service. Once this has been approved the design and construction of the helipad is currently estimated at six-nine months at a cost of approximately £750k - £800k.”
North Antrim MLA Paul Frew said he was hopeful the design and construction of the helipad can happen as swiftly as possible.
He said: “The implementation of the air ambulance had a high level of public support and many would like to see it in place as soon as possible.
“However I do recognise there are processes which have to take place. It is important that these are done properly and that a first class service is put in place. Furthermore medical staff and those in the health profession need to be confident that the right model of care is in place, so that they can carry out their job effectively.
“Safety is paramount and I would ask that the Minister and her officials do everything they can to ensure the process is carried out within an appropriate time frame.”