Scaling back of air ambulance service

 

Sir, – I refer to your Editorial, “Reaping the harvest” (November 18th) . The Emergency Aeromedical Service standing down for 16 days in the next four months is a gravely serious matter (Barry Roche, Home News, November 18th).

For the Department of Defence to shrug it off as the unforeseen consequence of the civilian market demand on Irish Air Corps pilots is insulting.

To see others justify the decision to stand down the service by citing the availability of the Irish Coast Guard or Irish Community Rapid Response shows a lack of understanding of what underpins the decision of the military to withdraw, and the serious risks involved.

As far back as the inception of the service in 2012, military leadership signalled that pilot retirements were having an adverse effect on the ability of the Air Corps to do the many tasks required of it by the government.

As the situation worsened in recent years there was further communication as to the risk associated with the loss of experienced aviators, technicians, air traffic controllers and other specialities.

These warnings fell on deaf ears.

As a result, the squadron that has kept EAS running since 2012 is down to two crews, it is supposed to have 10. This is the same squadron that has a myriad of other military and civilian roles, not least the fire-fighting conducted this year and last.

It is disingenuous to claim that this crisis, similar to other Defence Force crises, has not been years in the making.

I retired from the Irish Air Corps last year following 16 years of service. During this time I was a helicopter pilot on the Emergency Aeromedical Service. I flew these crucial aeromedical missions with the same Air Corps crews who are today preparing to standdown the service.

I saw the life-saving impact this service has on a daily basis on some our most remote and vulnerable people. I have seen the personal sacrifices the under- staffed and under-paid crews have made to ensure that not a single day’s service has been lost in the last seven years. They do this not to satisfy shareholders, they do it out of a sense of duty. It is against their DNA to withdraw support to the people of Ireland.

Like any military unit they want to complete their mission. Asking the Irish Coast Guard or the newly established Irish Community Rapid Response to double hat at short notice to cover the gaps left by the Air Corps is a sticking plaster solution.

EAS will be stood down on Thursday November 21st for four days, and this will have to be repeated in December and January at least.

In 2015 the Defence White Paper highlighted the need to make the service permanent and sustainable.

A project group was to be established to make this need a reality, led by the Department of Defence. Four years later this project has not even started. Start it now.

The crews that staff the Emergency Aeromedical Service in Athlone are the best of this country, and they should be given every support to ensure that this service is still being delivered by the Air Corps in the decades to come.

Let this unit continue to serve this country with pride and live by the motto it has served under since its inception in 1963: “Go Mairidís Beo”: That Others May Live. – Yours, etc,

SEÁN McCARTHY,

Captain, Retired,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.