HSE faces questions after helicopter had to land on GAA pitch

The HSE has been asked to clarify its plans for providing helipad facilities for Cork University Hospital after a medevac helicopter had to land on a nearby sports pitch.

The crew of Medevac 112 put down on a pitch at Bishopstown GAA club despite assurances from the HSE earlier this year that it hoped to have a 24-hour helipad operational at nearby Highfield rugby club within weeks.

The Highfield site is understood to be the favoured helipad location, given its direct road access to the hospital campus.

However, the site has yet to be declared a ‘pre-designated landing zone’.

CUH has been without a helipad for almost a decade after an emergency department was built on the former helipad.

Since then, patients who require urgent transfer to or from CUH by air ambulance are taken by road ambulance to or from Cork Airport.

The lack of a helipad at CUH was raised earlier this year following the drowning of a child in east Cork. HSE officials told public representatives in April they were working on the helipad issue on two fronts.

They said the Highfield landing site, once complete, would have a 24-hour operational capability and be able to take the Coast Guard’s large Sikorsky S91 and S92 helicopters, as well as the smaller Irish Air Corps Augusta Westland 139 and Eurocopter 135 helicopters.

The HSE said at the time: “We are pleased to confirm that work on and around the Highfield site is expected to be completed within the next four to six weeks. The site survey has been completed and trials will take place towards the end of next week.”

However, after Sunday’s landing at Bishopstown GAA club, local representatives want the HSE to explain why the Highfield site is not ready.

Fine Gael councillor John Butt-imer said he thought the HSE had outlined a definitive plan in April. “It’s time now for the HSE to come clean and explain what they are doing around providing helipad facilities at CUH. They should set out clear and actionable points,” he said.

Fianna Fáil councillor Mary Shields said she was tired of being fobbed off. “I have been pursuing this issue for a decade,” she said. “The HSE told us four months ago that a helipad would be up and running at Highfield within six weeks, and that hasn’t happened. We need a helipad on the hospital campus in the interests of patient safety.”

The HSE failed to answer several detailed questions on the helipad issue yesterday, but said discussions with representatives of Highfield RFC are continuing.

The HSE also said in April that it was planning to seek €2m in funding to build a helipad on the roof of the emergency department to accommodate smaller helicopters. It is understood a formal application for that funding has been made.

The Emergency Aeromedical Service is operated by the Air Corps in support of the HSE’s National Ambulance Service. With the call-sign Medevac 112, it was launched in Jun 2012 on a 12-month trial with a helicopter and crew based at Custume Barracks in Athlone. The trial has been extended until the end of next month.

Coast Guard helicopters provide the service when the Air Corps aircraft is on another mission, or not available. By June, Medevac 112 had completed more than 290 missions, with a further 60 carried out by the Coast Guard on behalf of the EAS.

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