Health Minister announces way forward for Northern Ireland’s air ambulance

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Health Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has moved the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) and the major trauma network a step closer to implementation.

The Minister, during a visit to Craigavon Area Hospital, announced the key findings of the HEMS consultation including the management and funding models, home base location, target patient groups and collaboration with other services.

Also attending the announcement was Dr Janet Acheson, the partner of the late Dr John Hinds who himself met with the Minister in June 2015 to discuss a way forward for the realisation of a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service.

The Minister said: “John Hinds and I shared the same vision of a world class pre-hospital emergency service and it is fitting that today we are here in his hospital base on what would have been his birthday, with his partner, Dr Janet Acheson, his family and many of his work colleagues announce that we are making his dream a reality.

“We will now develop a service specification for a daylight hours Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, which is physician led but also supported by paramedics. It will provide a primary response role initially for major trauma incidents and develop into a secondary response role helping, for example, heart attack and stroke patients, at an appropriate time in the future. This will be implemented by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service as the Trust with lead responsibility for delivering the service, who will work closely with the five other Health and Social Care Trusts.

“We will shortly begin the process of procurement and recruitment and sorting out staff rotas, and begin investing in enabling capital works on the helipad at the Major Trauma Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“The Major Trauma Network and the HEMS will operate in a joined-up way. For this reason, Belfast International Airport offers the greatest potential benefit as the main base for the HEMS, both practically in terms of existing infrastructure, and geographically in terms of its proximity to the greatest number of potential HEMS missions, the Major Trauma Centre, the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service, and a pool of physicians and paramedics from across the region who will staff HEMS rotas.”

Highlighting the future funding model for the continuation of the service the Minister concluded saying: “Whilst the Department of Health will be responsible for providing sufficient funds to ensure the continuity of the service in the long term, I am keen to explore the possibility of supporting the service through charitable funds. Through our consultation the registered charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland has come forward with proposals of how they would build a robust funding base in the local community. Indeed, best practice from other UK HEMS services indicates that this model can be highly successful in attracting funds to support the non-medical costs, and I think we can aspire towards this and I applaud the Trustees for their efforts to secure the £4.5million funds from the Chancellor.

“I am pleased to confirm recurrent funding of £250,000 for the Major Trauma Network and a further £250,000 from my Transformation Fund in 2016/17 to facilitate the necessary planning, preparation, recruitment and training to get us to a state of readiness for the HEMS to be put into operation. The Trauma Network board have also met and begun preparatory work including recruitment of trauma clinical leads that should be in position by August 2016.”

Welcoming the Minister’s announcement Dr Janet Acheson said: “This is a day of mixed emotions for all of the Hinds and Acheson families. Today as a family we should have been celebrating John’s 36th birthday.

“Last year, for his birthday John’s mum Josephine gave him a model London HEMS helicopter because he had a dream of a world-leading, trauma network with a doctor led HEMS at its core. That is now a huge step closer to reality.

“This is the start – this is where the work begins. Hopefully it will not take too long to literally “lift off”, but it is better to get it right than rush into a second class service. It takes time to build the right team and the right structure. John believed in high performance. We are honoured to be a part of this announcement today, thank you.”