Reilly to decide on air ambulance service after talks with providers


MINISTER FOR Health Dr James Reilly is set to make a decision on the introduction of an Irish air ambulance service next month following talks with a number of providers across the State.

Kerry-based charity group Air Ambulance Ireland (AAI) submitted a formal proposal to Dr Reilly last week, signalling their readiness to launch on February 1st. He told an Oireachtas committee meeting recently that a clear resolution on provision of a helicopter ambulance service would be made in January.

Health Service Executive (HSE) national director of integrated services Brian Gilroy said a number of providers were being evaluated.

AAI is one of three options open to the Minister, alongside Roscommon-based private company Lifelight Air Ambulance Ltd and an “in-house” service provided by the Air Corps using a new fleet of ambulance-enabled helicopters.

AAI submitted its proposal to provide a community-funded rapid response helicopter after a series of meetings with Dr Reilly and officials at the Department of Health and HSE, including the director of the National Ambulance Service, Robert Morton.

UK-based air ambulance provider Bond Air Services will provide AAI with helicopters and flight crews and have pledged to underwrite the cost of the first three months of the service. The operation will rely on community fundraising thereafter.

“Ireland is the only EU country without a dedicated air ambulance service. We have formally submitted our proposal and are ready to launch on St Brigid’s Day, subject to ministerial approval,” AAI general manager Ellen Miller said.

Lifelight Air Ambulance, a not-for-profit consortium that includes the Roscommon Hospital Action Committee, made its presentation to Dr Reilly in October.

“Our operation would service the northwest and midlands area initially, with the intention of expanding the service to cover the country. The first aircraft would be based at Roscommon, where it would carry out inter facility transfers from approved sites,” spokesman David Hall said.

Facilitated by suppliers Sloane Helicopters, Lifelight launch their craft tomorrow at Weston Airport in Celbridge, Co Kildare, on a demonstration flight to Roscommon General Hospital. It is due to land at Dr Hyde Park at 1pm.

The Department of Health has signalled its intention to put the community-provided option out to tender should it choose not to opt for an Air Corps service.

Mr Hall said a dedicated community-funded option was preferable to an Air Corps one, which has been provided on an ad hoc basis to date. “We would have grave concerns about a quick-fix solution to this – we believe the people of Ireland deserve a dedicated service.”

He claimed the HSE had undertaken to provide an aeromedical liaison desk, but this had not yet been done. The desk was one of the key recommendations of the Health Information and Quality Authority report into the case of Maedhbh McGivern, the Leitrim teenager who missed out on a liver transplant in London in July as a result of a failure to find transport to take her there on time. She had a successful transplant in September.