Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) officially launched the province’s new Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) on Wednesday, August 2.
The launch event at the NI Air Ambulance base at the Maze site near Lisburn marked the culmination of a 12-year campaign backed by the public and driven by key individuals throughout that period.
Among those who attended the launch were Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and local MLA Pat Catney.
The new doctor/paramedic led service will be of most benefit to those whose lives are at serious risk following significant injury or trauma. The operational and clinical aspects of the service will be delivered by NIAS, while AANI will be responsible for raising £2m annually to sustain the helicopter operations that the charity has contracted from Babcock MCS Onshore.
The HEMS service brings with it the advantages of rapid transportation to scene, rapid advanced medical intervention at scene and rapid transport to the most appropriate hospital.
The Air Ambulance has already attended a number of incidents during preparatory and training periods over the last few weeks, including a serious road crash near Hillsborough earlier this week.
NIAS Chief Executive Shane Devlin, paid tribute to all involved in the delivery of pre-hospital care in NI, saying: “Since taking up post as NIAS Chief Executive, I have been astounded at the work carried out by our Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians on the frontline, supported by staff in Ambulance Control and within other functions of NIAS.
“Their clinical skills are of the highest quality and I know that, on a daily basis, NIAS is saving lives.
“The introduction of HEMS to our response model is a really positive advance in pre-hospital care throughout the region. The advanced medical interventions which can be delivered by our doctors and paramedics in the HEMS team at incidents, where life may be ebbing away, will further improve survival rates and help to ensure better patient outcomes.
“I am delighted that the service is operational and I look forward to working with all who have an interest in HEMS to ensure that, going forward, we further improve the service for the benefit of patients.”
Speaking on behalf of AANI, Chief Executive Patrick Minne said: “As the service becomes operational, the Air Ambulance NI family can reflect on the immense support received already from individuals, community groups, sports clubs and businesses from every corner of Northern Ireland. Their fundraising efforts have been vital in helping the charity advance toward the £2m a year target it needs to raise to make the service sustainable.
“Efforts by some of the charity’s trustees to secure an airborne service date back to 2005. It’s been a long campaign, but we’re delighted that Northern Ireland is no longer the only part of the UK without this life-saving service.
“We and our partners remain passionately committed to repaying fundraisers’ trust by providing the sustainable and world-class helicopter emergency service we promised.”
Posting on Facebook, Mr Donaldson said it was “a great day for Northern Ireland with the launch of the Air Ambulance Service based at the Maze site in Lagan Valley.”
“Congratulations to everyone involved in getting the new service up and running. Lives will be saved as a result of this initiative,” he commented.
Mr Catney added: “The formal launch of the HEMS Air Ambulance today is a watershed moment for emergency response care. Journeys with patients facing acute medical conditions or trauma that would otherwise have taken over an hour can now be completed in minutes, giving those in need of care the best chance of recovery.
“The campaign for this service has been long and gruelling. But the determination of people like Dr John Hinds and others over 12 years has ensured that we can now reach the most remote parts of the North to help those in need.
“What’s vital now is that we ensure funding for the service is sustainable and not reliant on public donations to continue. This must be a priority for all parties and underscores the critical need to establish power sharing institutions.”
Donations in support of Air Ambulance NI can be made online at www.airambulanceni.org