Call for probe into organ transport system

The head of a private ambulance firm involved in all of the State’s organ transport missions has called on HIQA to probe what he said has become a “chaotic” organ transport co-ordination system.

David Hall, who runs Lifeline Ambulance Service, made the call last night after it emerged that a dedicated team to manage the Aeromedical Co-ordination Centre has still not been appointed.

The establishment of the centre was one of the key recommendations from the HIQA inquiry report into why teenager Meadhbh McGivern from Leitrim missed out on a transplant in July 2011.

It was eventually set up last year within the National Ambulance Service to co-ordinate the land and air transport for transplant missions.

But the HSE admitted last night just three of the six posts have been filled. The recruitment of the other three posts is ongoing, a spokesperson said.

But she denied reports that any team members have resigned, or that they have raised formal concerns about the system.

However, Mr Hall said an incident last Tuesday shows how chaotic the co-ordination system has become.

“We are now in a worse situation than before the HIQA inquiry” he said.

“I am calling on HIQA and the minister for health to investigate all the standards, regulations, processes and resources around this entire organ transport system.”

Yesterday, details emerged of how the Air Corps landed an organ transplant medical team in a sports field in the Phoenix Park in the dark last Tuesday.

The team had to carry the vital organs across the field and climb through a fence to get to a waiting jeep. A locked gate prevented it from parking near the aircraft.

It was the first time in 14 years the landing site was used for an organ transplant mission.

The Defence Forces criticised an Irish Daily Mail report which portrayed what they said was a successful organ transport mission as a “blunder”.

They took the unusual step of recreating part of the mission to rubbish the report’s suggestions the medical team was forced to “scale a fence”.

“The media report of them [the HSE transplant team] ‘scaling a fence’ is fanciful in the extreme,” Defence Forces spokesman Commandant Denis Hanly said. “This media story does a great disservice to the men and women of the Air Corps who completed 71 air ambulance missions in 2011 and 46 so far this year.”

The Irish Daily Mail was unavailable for comment last night.

Cmdt Hanly said a specialist HSE transplant team was flown by an AW 139 helicopter to a regional location to collect the organs and medical team, and then flown back to Dublin.

The mission was flown using night-vision goggles so the helicopter could land as close as possible to the Mater, rather than at Baldonnel Aerodrome.

Air Corps pilots are the only pilots in Ireland authorised to fly using these goggles.

They landed the aircraft in the Army Sports Ground in the Phoenix Park at about 3am, less than 3km from the Mater. The decision to land here saved the transplant team valuable time, said Cmdt Hanly.

The sports ground is regularly used as an Air Corps landing site for VIPs, but Mr Hall said he believes this was the first time in 14 years it was used for an organ transport mission.

Cmdt Hanly said the transplant team was escorted from the aircraft across the field by two crew wearing night-vision goggles. They helped pass the equipment containing the vital organs over the fence.

Another military escort party waiting outside the grounds helped the team to the waiting ambulance.

Cmdt Hanly said the mission was carried out in accordance with a service level agreement between the departments of health and defence covering inter-hospital patient transfer and organ retrieval.

But Mr Hall described the circumstances as “far from ideal”.

He said the fact nothing has improved since the HIQA recommendations and since Meadhbh’s failed organ transplant, shows “a massive lack of respect for all transplant patients”.


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