CUH plans helipad for next year

A helipad could be operational at Cork University Hospital by December 2017.

Left: A coastguard helicopter landing in Bishopstown; right: The Defence Forces land on the GAA fields.

CUH group chief executive Tony McNamara confirmed the date yesterday in a report to the HSE’s Southern Regional Forum.

“Following completion of initial design and engagement with Cork City Council, it is intended to engage with local resident groups,” said Mr McNamara. “The current anticipated date for an operational helipad on-site is December 2017.”

Following a detailed site evaluation process, aviation consultants have selected a site in the north-eastern corner of the campus, which is currently a staff car park.

It is understood the site complies with strict clinical requirements and aviation regulations and is suitable to accommodate the Coast Guard’s S-92 search-and-rescue helicopters, and the Irish Air Corps’ Augusta Westland 139 and Eurocopter 135 aircraft.

However, it is understood that talks are ongoing between the HSE, Irish Aviation Authority, and the National Aeromedical Service about suitable flight paths in variable weather conditions.

It is also understood that once talks with HSE staff about the loss of the car parking spaces conclude, a Cork City Council planning application will be lodged.

The details emerged yesterday in a reply to questions from Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer.

Mr McNamara confirmed that a design team has been appointed in recent weeks to advance the helipad project. The team will include aviation consultants to ensure it complies with aviation requirements.

Mr Buttimer welcomed the 2017 target date but said it is essential that the helipad is delivered sooner rather than later.

“We need to keep the pressure on,” he said. “We have been here before, with potential sites identified and nothing happened. Now the money has been allocated, a site identified, and a design team appointed. I will be seeking regular progress updates over the coming months to ensure this happens.”

In advance of the helipad project, a hospital chimney stack will be demolished as part of a separate hospital energy efficiency scheme — a move which will also facilitate possible flight paths into the proposed landing site.

The hospital’s original helipad was decommissioned more than 13 years ago for the construction of its emergency department.

Since then, medevacs to CUH have landed at either Cork Airport, or on Bishops-town GAA club fields located close to the hospital.

Public representatives and clinicians have been pushing for years for the reinstatement of a permanent on-campus helipad to minimise the extra risks posed to critically ill airlifted patients.

As recently as Tuesday, three infants were airlifted to CUH via Cork Airport after a burns accident in West Cork.

The Irish Examiner reported in July that capital funding of €1.8m had been approved for the development of a new helipad, and that the HSE was poised to lodge a planning application before the end of the year.

CUH is the only Level 1 trauma centre in the country, with over 40 acute medical and surgical specialities on campus. It is the tertiary referral centre for the HSE South, and the regional area including Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Waterford, and Kilkenny, serving more than 1.1m patients. CUH has more than 65,000 attendances at its emergency department every year, making it one of the busiest hospitals in the country.

As medical advances continue, the number of patients being transferred by air into CUH’s neurosurgical and cariothoracic units, and out of its neonatal units, is likely to increase.

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