'It's incredible what they can do time-wise' - Community-funded air ambulance already saving lives

'It's incredible what they can do time-wise' - Community-funded air ambulance already saving lives
The Charity Air Ambulance with crew on demonstration at Rathcoole Aerodrome in North County Cork on Monday following the launching Ireland's first Charity led Air Ambulance which is being led by Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) and delivered with the HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) and the Department of Health. Picture: Don MacMonagle

Just days before his accident, Liam O'Riordan was on a fundraising truck-run to help get Ireland's first community-funded air ambulance in the air.

Little did he think as he climbed a ladder to paint his home just a stone's thrown from the air ambulance base near Millstreet in North Cork five weeks ago today, that he would become its first patient after breaking his back in a fall.

Mr Riordan, who is still wearing a back brace, has paid tribute to the two paramedics, Paul Traynor and Edward Walsh, who treated him at the scene that Tuesday morning.

And he said the air ambulance service, which flew him to a designated landing zone in a sports field next to Cork University Hospital (CUH) in just seven minutes - compared to a near 45-minute road trip - will save lives across Munster and beyond.

"I knew straight away when I landed on my back that I was in trouble. It's incredible what they can do time-wise. It was just seven minutes from my house to CUH and I felt nothing. The trip from Bishopstown (where the aircraft landed) to CUH in an ambulance - it was like in the back of a tractor compared to what it was like in the helicopter."

He said he is still in some pain but is recovering every day: "But I'd say I'll be barred from painting for life."

Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, officially launched the Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) air ambulance service, which is being delivered in association with the HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) and the Department of Health.

The charity is funding the helicopter, pilots, fuel and the airbase. The NAS provides the medical staffing and coordinates the taskings. The service brings the population of a 10,000 sq m area within 20-minutes of critical medical care.

Although initially envisaged as a doctor-led service, the aircraft is being staffed by advanced paramedics, paramedics and emergency medical technicians. It went live as a dedicated NAS asset just over 30 days ago and has already been tasked 56 times to a mix of trauma and cardiac incidents. It was tasked five times on its busiest day. It is expected to perform 500 life-saving missions annually.

ICRR founder, John Kearney, said he was inspired to launch an air ambulance following the death of a friend's young daughter, who faced a long journey to hospital. He said that while ICRR leads the service in partnership with the NAS, the aircraft, call-sign Helimed92, is for the people of Ireland who will keep it in the air:

It's been over a decade since we had this vision. The first month of service has shown with no doubt the real need for this service. Its use has exceeded expectations. But it's not my helicopter, it's not ICRR's helicopter. It's there for us all. It belongs to us all.

Mr Coveney praised Mr Kearney's dedication and the partnership approach which got the service in the air: "We live in a country that values rural communities and we need State infrastructure to support them to live there. This service is a really good example of that."

But he said it took time for this model of care to be agreed and it should be given time to bed in before consideration is given to introducing doctors: "It is largely modelled on a similar service in Wales that works. There is something to be said for replicating a model that we know works, and bedding it down here now. Let's see how the service beds down but we should always be open to expanding a service, to changing and improving it and I think the people involved will be in contact contact the HSE to do that."

  • ICRR will need to raise €2m annually to keep the service flying
  • Since 2008, ICRR has also developed a network of more than 250 land-based volunteer doctors working with 10-rapid response vehicles across the country
  • You can help fundraise by visiting at www.icrr.ie

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