Air Ambulance service launches in Northern Ireland after 12-year campaign

Pictured at the launch of the Air Ambulance are (left to right) Dr Darren Monaghan, 11-year-old Conor McMullan who was taken to hospital by the new service after a tractor accident, paramedic Glenn O'Rorke and pilot David O'Toole 

THE culmination of 12 years of campaigning will today see the official launch of the Northern Ireland air ambulance.

Emergency paramedics will be able to reach any part of the north within 25 minutes with the start of the new service. Campaigners believe it could potentially save between 18 and 50 lives a year.

The Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) will be based at the Maze/Long Kesh site near Lisburn, while a secondary aircraft will be situated at St Angelo Airport in Enniskillen.

It will be of most benefit to those whose lives are at serious risk following significant injury or trauma.

The air ambulance, which was finally given the green light in March, will be staffed on a rota basis from six full-time paramedics, a team of 15 doctors and two pilots.

It comes just weeks after the air ambulance completed its first mission, ahead of its anticipated launch when 11-year-old Conor McMullan suffered serious head injuries following a tractor accident in Castlewellan on July 22. 

The air ambulance was scrambled from training to take him to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

At today's official launch of the service at its base within the Maze site outside Lisburn, Conor and his family met with the air ambulance crew who came to his aid.

His father John McMullan said he witnessed first hand how the air ambulance is such a vital service for the region.

He said: "We are a farming community and it was a typical Saturday with everyone farming. The kids were enjoying themselves when Conor was hit by a piece of machinery and sustained a very bad head injury and fracture.

"Where we are is very rural and the roads are very poor but thanks to the air ambulance we were able to get him into hospital and treated within minutes.

"It was very traumatic for us but it was very settling to know the air ambulance was there and he was going to get the care he needed within minutes.

"It really put me at ease and so did the professionalism of the team. It really is a vital service. Conor is going to make a full recovery."

Within minutes of its official launch the air ambulance was dispatched to an emergency call.

Conor said: "I can't remember being in the helicopter so it was really brilliant to see it today, especially flying."

Air ambulance patients will be taken to Musgrave Park Hospital before being transferred by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

An Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) spokesman last night said the helipad at the RVH was currently "not operational". But he said "an ambulance will be waiting for them where they will be taken the two minutes along the road to the Royal".

The campaign to create an air ambulance service has spanned 12 years. Among those who campaigned for the introduction of the air ambulance was the late motorsport medic Dr John Hinds (35), who died in a motornike crash in 2015.

Dr John Hinds, who campaigned for the air ambulance, was killed in a motorbike crash in 2015. Picture by Pacemaker

A total of £2 million a year will need to be raised to sustain the helicopter operations.

The German-made EC135 aircraft have been selected as the most suitable for the operating environment in Northern Ireland.

Air Ambulance chief executive Patrick Minne said the service had become operational after "immense support" 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," he said.

"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."

NIAS chief executive Shane Devlin said: "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."

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