The air ambulance service, based in Custume Barracks, Athlone has been made permanent – but it will continue to operate only during daylight hours.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, Defence Minister Simon Coveney and Health Minister Leo Varadkar announced the establishment of the permanent Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS), as it is officially known.
It had been operated on a pilot basis since June 4, 2012, 12 months after the closure of the emergency department at Roscommon Hospital. It operates all over the country, but is especially beneficial to rural locations, such as Roscommon. It is designed to ensure that seriously ill or injured people in remoter areas have timely access to high-quality clinical care.
A cross-sectoral working group had recently been examining ways to provide a permanent service. Ministers Coveney and Varadkar considered the group’s report, and it has been agreed to establish a permanent service, continuing the current model. The current service runs from 8 am to 8 pm, seven days per week.
The ministers said the new service would be subject to an ongoing review. Minister Varadkar said that he was “delighted” that the Government had agreed to put the EAS on a permanent footing. He added: “It’s a great example of co-operation across Government and it shows what can be achieved by using existing resources, even following a deep financial crisis. “The service has been great for patients and ensures that those in remoter areas, particularly in the west, have timely access to specialised treatment available in large hospitals.” The National Ambulance Service (NAS) and Air Corps have operated the service on a pilot basis since mid-2012. Minister Coveney also welcomed the news. He added: “The professionalism and commitment of the Air Corps in providing a dedicated helicopter service to date has been exemplary.”
The air ambulance service performed 69 missions in Co. Roscommon last year, a 33 per cent rise on the 52 carried out the previous year.
Local politicians welcome news on air ambulance
There was a positive reaction in local political circles on Wednesday to the news that the air ambulance service had been made permanent.
Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan warmly welcomed the news, but John McDermott, the chairman of the Hospital Action Committee, expressed disappointed that its hours of operation had not been extended.
Deputy Feighan said that the service had been an “outstanding success” since it was introduced in June 2012. He added: “I am delighted that the Government has agreed to put the service on a permanent footing. “The service has been great for patients and ensures that those in more remote areas, have timely access to specialised treatment available in the larger hospitals.”
Mr McDermott, while also welcoming the news, said the hours of operation for the service – 8 am to 8 pm – should be extended. He also said: “It is not sufficient that there is only one helicopter and that it only flies during the day. “People have these events at any time during the 24 hours. “If a 24-hour service cannot be provided under the current model, other community or charitable organisations should be able to come in and provide a service to supplement it.”
Deputy Denis Naughten welcomed the Government announcement. “The pilot service which was introduced just over three years ago has been a phenomenal success, transporting over 1,000 people to hospital over that period” he said. “I have no doubt that were it not for this service, many of those people would not be around to tell of the excellent treatment which they received from the dedicated aeromedical team. “The fact that this important service has now been put on a permanent basis is not to be underestimated, because back in July 2011 the then Minister for Health was reported to have stated that the importance of an air ambulance service “probably lay in its psychological support rather than the actual use of it itself.
“Not only has the air ambulance service proved the Minister wrong, but I’m glad, that after a lot of work behind the scenes, this will now be a permanent part of our emergency services” “As someone who has campaigned my entire political career for a dedicated air ambulance service, this is a significant step forward. In fact it is now just over 16 years since I first raised such a proposal with the then Health Minister, Brian Cowen.
“Over time I would like to see this service expanded by providing 24 hour a day service and with the provision of an additional helicopter, but having said that, this is a very positive and welcome development” concluded Denis Naughten.