The team behind Ireland’s first community-funded air ambulance have insisted that their life-saving service won’t be affected as it provides back-up for the state-funded helicopter emergency medical (HEMS) service which is facing groundings over staffing shortages.
The assurance came ahead of a key fundraiser for the Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) charity in North Cork this weekend as new figures show its HEMS service has flown almost 190-missions since its launch in July.
People have now been encouraged to back the fundraiser in Buttevant on Friday to ensure the service, which requires some €2m a year to stay in the air, can continue saving lives.
ICRR launched its air ambulance service with an Augusta Westland AW109 aircraft from its base near Millstreet, Co Cork, in July.
The service has brought the population of a 10,000 sq m area, mostly across Munster, within 20-minutes of critical medical care.
The charity is funding the helicopters, pilots, fuel and the airbase. The National Ambulance Service (NAS) provides the medical staffing and coordinates the taskings.
But it emerged on Friday that a chronic shortage of trained pilots working on the state-funded HEMS, operated by the Air Corps from its base in Athlone, has forced the Air Corps to reduce the number of hours it will fly.
The Defence Forces said the Air Corps will be unable to man its AW139 helicopter for four days per month up until the end of next February, because it does not have enough qualified pilots to operate all the shifts.
ICRR has been asked to step in and provide HEMS cover from Athlone during these grounding days.
ICRR said it will deploy its secondary aircraft, which it leases from an operator in the UK, to Custume Barracks in Athlone for each of those grounding days to ensure continuity of the state’s HEMS service.
It insisted that its primary aircraft will remain on standby at its Rathcoole airbase near Millstreet, ready to respond at a moment’s notice to calls from the NAS in the southern region.
Now locals in North Cork are rallying behind ICRR with a major fundraiser set to take place in the Black Rose pub, Buttevant, featuring Alan Finn of the Shandrum Ceilí band, and friends, as well as a range of special guests.
Organiser Rosario Buckley said the air ambulance service is so important, especially for rural communities, to give people involved in cardiac or trauma incidents every possible chance of survival.