But it is not a replacement for an A&E
Local TD and health campaigner Denis Naughten has welcomed the Government announcement of a dedicated air ambulance base for Custume Barracks in Athlone.
“This is a major step forward in establishing a national helicopter emergency service which could transport patients from the scene of an accident to a major trauma centre,” stated Denis Naughten.
“While it is important to remember that the establishment of this service in Athlone is a positive development, it is not a replacement for other ambulance services, the closure of Roscommon A&E or the downgrading of services at other hospitals – in fact just the opposite.
“Such a service, if it was in place last July, would have addressed a number of the ‘opportunistic’ safety concerns regarding Roscommon Hospital’s accident and emergency department. This proposal was rejected at that stage as it would have undermined the plan to close the A&E.
“It should be noted that the helicopter ambulance service will cater for a very small proportion of very ill patients, where travelling time to a regional trauma centre is the difference between life and death. It is also an admission that the closure of Roscommon A&E department has left the people of County Roscommon in a far more vulnerable position.
“I now hope that the Government will use the establishment of this service as the basis to review the operation of Roscommon Hospital’s Urgent Care Centre to see how additional patients could be accepted at the hospital, stabilised and then transferred by air ambulance to other medical centres.
“Having said that, 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 coming up on the 13th anniversary since I first raised such a proposal with the then Health Minister, Brian Cowen [see attached reply]. I have campaigned for this service not only because it would clearly save lives, but also because it would help to provide a valuable back up to smaller A&E departments which could then introduce a stabilise and transfer protocol for all patients which would meet the best possible international standards.
“This announcement must now be used as a stepping stone to improve emergency services in the midlands and west by expanding the scope and range of the helicopter emergency service and by using this service to look again at how local hospitals can support emergency care, instead of using it as a justification to remove vital health services,” concluded Denis Naughten.
First Dáil reply on this issue from 1999.
Written Answers – Air Ambulance Service.
Thursday, 22 April 1999
81. Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans, if any, he has to introduce an air ambulance service for call-out to road accidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10600/99]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): Since 1965 an arrangement has been in place whereby the Air Corps provides air ambulance transport to health boards for emergency cases. This service is generally provided in emergencies requiring the removal of badly injured or very ill persons over long distances, particularly where they cannot be safely conveyed by road ambulance. The service is also provided for the removal from the islands of persons requiring urgent hospital attention when weather conditions are such as to make boat transport impossible or hazardous to the patient. Since August 1991, the marine search and rescue helicopter service of the Department of the Marine, which operates from Shannon airport, is also available for air ambulance transport in cases of emergency.
I am aware of the role which a dedicated air ambulance service could play in enhancing the effectiveness of the ambulance service. However, proposals for the development of an air ambulance service must be placed in the wider context of developments in emergency medical services generally and any initiative in this area must complement other pre-hospital resources such as the ambulance service and first responder programme. The particular role of air ambulance was examined by the standing committee on air ambulance services. The standing committee undertook a detailed examination of a number of independent proposals for the establishment of a dedicated helicopter emergency medical service which were received from groups interested in this area. Meetings took place with a number of these groups.
Following these meetings, officials of my Department have worked with other interested parties to clarify a number of issues regarding needs, costs and benefits deriving from having a dedicated and purpose-equipped air ambulance service.
I remain committed to further improving pre-hospital care services and I have allocated an additional £2.7 million for developments in the field of pre-hospital care in 1999. This funding represents the largest ever increase in resources for this area and will assist considerably in improving emergency medical services.