Stephen Cusack, professor of emergency medicine at University College Cork and consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital, welcomed the news yesterday as he watched the service’s first aircraft touch down in Cork City.
But he said Ireland could do with up to five such aircraft in a helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS).
“I’ve been looking for this type of service for about 20 years,” Prof Cusack said.
“Wales has four of these helicopters in its HEMS service — in a country a third the size of Ireland. So, Ireland could probably do with four or five.
“We’re a big rural area, with a large hinterland, and a lot of places that are difficult to get to by road.
“There is no doubt that this service will reduce times getting to ill and severely injured people.
“The trick will be in the tasking, and for that, we are really dependent on the National Ambulance Service to buy into this full-time and to help us in any way they can.There is no threat or competition to anybody from this service.”
The announcement was made yesterday as the fully-equipped Eurocopter 135 helicopter visited Cape Clear, West Cork, and Cork City, as part of its whirlwind promotional tour of Munster.
The aircraft, crewed by a pilot, a paramedic, and consultant in emergency medicine, will be based at Cork Airport.
It can be in West Cork in less than 20 minutes, in Wexford in 29 minutes, in Limerick in 17 minutes, and in Dingle in 31 minutes.
The Irish Community Air Ambulance (ICAA) service, a major expansion of the Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) initiative established in West Cork in 2009, is co-ordinating the service.
ICRR founder and ICAA spokesman John Kearney said the flying doctor service will enhance their existing ground-based service to serve a population of some 1m people across Munster and beyond.
ICAA needs to raise €1m to get the service in the air, and up to €2m a year to keep it going. Mr Kearney said the response to the fundraising initiative has been phenomenal. “This is not my helicopter — this is a community helicopter,” he said.
The service will complement existing emergency services and the Athlone-based Emergency Aeromedical Service operated by the National Ambulance Service in partnership with the Irish Air Corps.