Air ambulance project set for take-off

John Kearney, chief executive of Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR), and pilot Capt John Murray, on board the new ICRR air ambulance at its launch last September in Kerry Airport. The charity-funded aircraft is ready to help save lives, but it is grounded in its purpose-built hangar until the health minister signs off on it. Picture: Don MacMonagle

After five months on the ground, Ireland’s first charity-funded air ambulance is finally set for take-off — with a promise of delivering pre-hospital emergency care within 20 minutes to those in need.

The breakthrough agreement between the HSE and Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) will allow paramedics to bring medical equipment equivalent to that of a hospital emergency room to the scene of life-threatening incidents.

John Kearney, the driving force behind the project and director of ICRR, said they are delighted the project finally has approval to get airborne — all they need now is a definitive date.

“The sooner this vital service is live, the sooner a life will be saved and grief will be spared,” he said.

The helicopter spent five months in a hangar in Rathcoole, Co Cork, pending sign-off on a service level agreement, at a cost of tens of thousands per month, with its pilots travelling to the UK to maintain their flying hours.

The charity is funding the leasing and operation of the aircraft, and the Department of Health will provide the paramedic personnel on board. ICRR has spent more than €50,000 on paramedic training and almost €400,000 developing an airbase in Rathcoole.

Mr Kearney said the next big thing they need “is public support to keep it here”.

“ICRR is a charity and in the contract we have committed to fundraising €2m annually to pay for the helicopter, the pilots, the airbase, and the fuel,” he said.

“That is why this is a ‘community’ air ambulance. To keep this service in the air, we will be reliant on the public’s long-term support, and I am confident that this can be achieved.”

The Irish Community Rapid Response air ambulance base at Rathcoole aerodrome near Millstreet in Co Cork. Air ambulance crew helmets still in plastic wrapping, as the charity awaits HSE clearance to go live.
The Irish Community Rapid Response air ambulance base at Rathcoole aerodrome near Millstreet in Co Cork. Air ambulance crew helmets still in plastic wrapping, as the charity awaits HSE clearance to go live.

Mr Kearney said they are hopeful a new helipad due for construction at Cork University Hospital would go ahead shortly. A planning application was lodged last November but planners sought additional information.

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.

Examples of incidents which it expects to respond to include airlifting seriously ill patients from remote areas or accident scenes to hospital, as well as transporting stroke and heart attack patients.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he is “delighted that a new aeromedical service in the south will commence shortly”.

Martin Dunne, director of the National Ambulance Service, said the new service would “assist with the enhancement of patient care delivery in the south of Ireland”.

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