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Doctors write open letter to express concerns about Republic's first charity air ambulance service

The Republic's first charity air ambulance touched down in Co Kerry on Friday. Picture from RTÉ
John Monaghan

DOCTORS from around the globe have written an open letter to express concern that the Republic's first community air ambulance will not be doctor-led.

The inaugural charity air ambulance in the Republic's history landed in Co Kerry on Friday and is due to begin full-time operations next month.

The service is expected to cost €2 million per year and is to be funded through donations.

It follows the launch of the north's first charity air ambulance service a year ago, after 12 years of campaigning.

In July it was revealed that it had been called out almost 400 times in its first year.

The helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) is based at the Maze/Long Kesh site near Lisburn, with a secondary aircraft at St Angelo Airport in Enniskillen.

The north's air ambulance is staffed on a rota basis by six full-time paramedics, a team of 15 doctors and two pilots.

In contrast, the Republic's service will be led by an advanced paramedic and an emergency medical technician and the absence of doctors - who commonly head the service throughout the world - has prompted 22 experts from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Norway to raise objections.

In a five-page open letter, they said: "This is not up to the standard expected of a HEMS and will not be able to provide advanced pre-hospital medical and trauma care to the critically ill and injured patients it is tasked to.

The letter stated that a doctor-led service would "improve clinical outcomes, decrease morbidity and mortality".

The air ambulance is expected to respond to up to 500 calls per year and bring the population of a 10,000 square mile area within 20 minutes of critical medical care.

Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) - a charity dedicated to pre-hospital care - is running the service in co-operation with the HSE National Ambulance Service.

It will be tasked through the National Ambulance Service 999/112 call system and is supported by the HSE and Department of Health.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "It should be noted that from the outset, any new air ambulance service will operate as an extension of the existing Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS).

"The EAS, based in Athlone, has been successfully operating for many years in partnership with the Irish Air Corps with the crewing model of an advanced paramedic and an emergency medical technician.

"As our aeromedical service evolves, we will continue to review how we can provide the best possible level of care for patients.

"That might include physician crewing, or it might include further expanding the competencies of EAS advanced paramedics or introducing specialist critical care paramedics."

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