The partner of tragic “flying doctor” John Hinds has been humbled and inspired by the groundswell of support for an air ambulance.
Dr Janet Acheson was speaking publicly for the first time since the popular motorcycle medic was killed during a racing event in July.
In a speech at Stormont’s senate chamber, she said: “The support for John’s work – which he was so passionate about – has been humbling, at times overwhelming but most of all inspiring.
“It has also given us strength through some very tough days.”
Thirty-five-year-old Dr John Hinds from Co Down was known as one of the “flying doctors” of Irish motorcycle sport.
The Craigavon Area Hospital consultant died as the result of a motorcycle crash while providing volunteer medical cover at the Skerries 100 race in Dublin.
We sincerely hope the growing momentum to establish a helicopter emergency medical service continues so that lives can be saved across Northern IrelandDr Janet Acheson
He was a strong advocate of using helicopters to speed the injured to hospital and met Health Minister Simon Hamilton to discuss the possibility of setting up a regional air ambulance.
Last month a HEMS4NI petition signed by more than 70,000 people was presented to political leaders at Stormont.
Dr Acheson added: “There could be no better legacy to my incredible other half, than saving lives.
“We sincerely hope the growing momentum to establish a helicopter emergency medical service continues so that lives can be saved across Northern Ireland.
“John, if he were here, would be incredibly proud at the groundswell of support which has been shown for this life-saving cause.”
Dr Acheson, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said Northern Ireland should follow the success of Scotland and Wales where the devolved governments have sustained the air ambulance.
“We realise there may need to be initial and ongoing charitable support but surely it must be the role of the government to lead the project and ensure secure long-term funding,” she said.
It should also be based in the Greater Belfast area where there is a concentration of trained medical and aviation staff.
Some 1,508 people have been killed in road traffic accidents in Northern Ireland since 2003. But, up to 600 could still be alive if a medical helicopter had been available to fly them to a hospital trauma unit.
“A properly structured helicopter emergency medical service will make a lasting difference to the people of this country,” said Dr Acheson.
“Today, there are people enjoying time with their families and friends, who some time in the future will end up in a very serious medical emergency.
“Their lives will be on the line. This service cannot wait any longer.”
The event at Stormont was hosted by TUV leader Jim Allister – a long time champion of a regional air ambulance.
He described Dr Hinds as a “pioneer” of the service.
Mr Allister said: “We encourage the department (of health) to do more and to deliver on the provision of this vital service because we are no less deserving that any other part of the United Kingdom or these islands for the sort of life-saving service that can be provided.”
Expert Dr Brian Burns, who headed a helicopter emergency medical service team in Sydney, said the provision of an air ambulance was a necessity, not a luxury.