Call for Northern Ireland air ambulance after Dublin rubberstamps service

Road racing's 'flying doctor' John Hinds who had campaigned for an air ambulance service in Northern Ireland
Road racing's 'flying doctor' John Hinds who had campaigned for an air ambulance service in Northern Ireland

Approval for a dedicated air ambulance in the Republic of Ireland underscores the need for similar provision north of the border, Jim Allister has said.

The Dublin government’s decision was announced on Wednesday by health minister Leo Varadkar and defence minister Simon Coveney.

The Republic has been operating an emergency air ambulance helicopter, based at Athlone, since mid-2012 and more than 1,000 missions have been undertaken.

Operated jointly by National Ambulance Service and the military Air Corps, it costs e2.6million each year and has proved particularly useful in reaching the ill and injured in remote western areas.

The Irish government has pledged to review the situation in the coming years to assess whether a second helicopter will be required, and whether it should be a fully civilianised service.

Responding to the news, TUV leader Mr Allister said Northern Ireland was now the only region in the British Isles not to have an airborne emergency service.

“The news – coming as it does so soon after the tragic and untimely death of Dr John Hinds who campaigned so passionately for a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) – underscores a glaring gap in health provision in Northern Ireland.

“As things stand, if someone in Northern Ireland is seriously injured they are at the mercy of where their injury occurs with there being no direct access to our only hospital with neurosurgical, spinal, pelvic, interventional radiology, cardiac and thoracic services (the Royal) if someone is injured outside the Belfast catchment area.”

Mr Allister added: “The powers that be need to take notice not just of the emotive argument that a service should be established as a fitting memorial to Dr Hinds, but also of the powerful statistical data he presented to the health minister”.