A funding crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the grounding of Ireland's first charity-funded air ambulance.
Lives will now be at risk, the service operators warned last night when the plug is pulled on the service next Friday.
The helicopter emergency medical service provided a vital frontline medical service to over 500,000 people living in the south of Ireland, responding to cardiac arrests, strokes, farming accidents and road traffic collisions.
Run by Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) and staffed by National Ambulance Service medical personnel, the aircraft will be grounded from April 3.
The service has flown over 351 missions since its launch eight months ago from its base near Millstreet in North Cork.
But it has been struggling in recent months to raise enough money to stay airborne.
ICRR's operations manager Ruth Bruton said the Covid-19 crisis has cut off all of its fundraising avenues.
She said members of the ICRR board are distraught at having to cease operations and withdraw this service during the current crisis at a time when Ireland's frontline health and medical service needs support more than ever before.
She said ICRR had already implemented harsh cost cutting measures in an effort to keep the service flying, including reducing its hours of operation from seven days to five days a week, laying off non-essential staff and cutting the hours of current staff.
“Our sincere thanks to the people of Ireland who supported this service and kept it flying for the last 8 months, you have all been part of a community that has saved hundreds of lives and impacted many, many families," she said.
She said as a last resort, ICRR sought interim support from government but it has yet to get a reply.