An emergency air ambulance service, established as a pilot scheme in 2012, responded to almost 700 calls in 2014 or almost two every day including several in Co Clare.
The Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS), operated by the Air Corps in support of the HSE’s National Ambulance Service (NAS), was established in June 2012 following agreement between the then Ministers for Health and Defence through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
Due to conclude in June 2103, the trial has been repeatedly extended for three 3-month periods to allow the Emergency Aeromedical Service Audit and Evaluation Group undertake it’s review of the pilot scheme.
The purpose of the trial was to determine the level and type of dedicated EAS operation, if any, might be needed in Ireland, one of the few countries in Europe without such a service.
Early last year, former Health Minister James Reilly accepted a report of their findings that included the establishment of an inter-service working group to examine options for the permanent establishment of an EAS service.
That group comprised representatives of the Departments of Health, Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform, the HSE, Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) and the Northern Ireland health and ambulance services.
Following several meetings, that committee has now completed it’s work and has forwarded its report to Health Minister Leo Varadkar for consideration.
The Department of Health has confirmed: “The report of the Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) Service Establishment Group was submitted recently to the Minister and is under consideration. The Department of Defence has agreed to extend the service while the report is under consideration.”
The news comes as figures from the Department of Health confirmed that in 2014, the EAS responded to 695 emergency calls.
The Air Corps air ambulance helicopter, Medevac 112, covered 353 of these mission with an Augusta Westland AW139 helicopter and crew based at Custume Barracks in Athlone.
In addition, the Irish Coast Guard undertook 342 calls on behalf of the EAS because they were better placed to do so.
The Coast Guard operates a fleet of Sikorsky S-92 aircraft only introduced by the service in 2012. The aircraft, which also carries a trained paramedic, are equipped with a neo-natal transport unit to transfer seriously ill newborn babies between hospitals. The Coast Guard aircraft are based at Shannon, Waterford, Sligo and Dublin.
All requests for EAS support are handled by the National Aeromedical Co-ordination Centre (NACC), a dedicated centre located in Tullamore, Co Offaly.
The helicopters have access to a total of 13 hospital helipads across the country or to sites adjacent to these facilities.