The Irish Community Air Ambulance faced its busiest year yet in 2021, responding to 512 emergencies across 14 counties.
However, despite an increasing demand for its life-saving services, the charity has to fundraise more than €2m to keep it going this year and is calling for government funding.
Last year was the busiest year since the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) air ambulance launched in July 2019.
It responded to 512 emergencies in 2021 and 490 in 2020.
Children and young people required more transfers to specialist paediatric hospitals in Dublin from the service last year.
There were also more calls to cardiac arrests, farming-related incidents, and falls from heights during 2021.
Cardiac arrests accounted for one in five calls with 103 taskings last year, that’s up from 81 during 2020.
The organisation is Ireland’s only charity-funded HEMS air ambulance. It works in partnership with the National Ambulance Service and responds to serious incidents and medical emergencies from its base in Rathcool, Co Cork.
Each helicopter mission costs an average of €3,500, all of which has to be raised or donated.
The CEO of the Irish Community Air Ambulance Micheál Sheridan said that they engaged with the Government and regional political leaders throughout 2021 to secure some State support for the vital service.
“The HSE is releasing funding to private Ambulance firms to provide support during the continuing crisis yet the Irish Community Air Ambulance is still entirely funded by public donations,” Mr Sheridan said.
“The cost to run the charity during 2022 is expected to be €2.1m which is a significant amount of money to raise.
"We are so grateful to all our supporters who help us to bring hope to those in emergency situations but we will continue to engage with the Government to provide funding during these uncertain times.”
Amongst the incidents responded to were:
- 89 Road traffic collisions;
- 64 Farming incidents;
- 64 Cardiovascular (Heart attacks and strokes);
- 63 General trauma calls 61 General medical calls;
- 48 Falls from heights;
- 20 Equestrian incidents.
July and April were the busiest months of the year for the service with 57 missions completed each month; Cork, Kerry and Tipperary accounted for the majority of taskings.
The Irish Community Air Ambulance was also tasked to Clare, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Mayo, Galway, Offaly, Laois, Wicklow and Kildare.
One in every three taskings required an airlift to hospital. There were 111 transfers to Cork University Hospital during 2021 which equates to 66% of all transfers; University Hospital Limerick accounts for 20%.
Mr Sheridan said: “There were also transfers to hospitals in Kerry, Tallaght, Galway, Temple Street, Crumlin and The Mater as we saw an increase in the number of times we were required to transfer children and young people to specialist paediatric hospitals in Dublin.
Diarmuid O'Donovan from Cork was seriously injured when he was thrown over the handlebars of his bike while cycling around Slea Head, Co Kerry, in May 2021.
He said he needed to be brought to a dedicated trauma centre quickly: “A moment of carelessness saw me hit the road. I was on my own but thankfully it wasn’t long before I was found."
"Paramedics, a local doctor, the local fire service and gardaí all responded. I was drifting in and out of consciousness and it quickly emerged that I needed to be at Cork University Hospital as soon as possible.
"I wasn’t in a suitable state for a two-and-a-half-hour journey by road so the Irish Community Air Ambulance was tasked and landed in Ventry. The journey to CUH by helicopter took just 30 minutes.
"I had 28 different bone breaks including my spine, shoulder, and ribs as well as a punctured lung. I underwent several procedures that evening and spent 12 days in hospital."
The organisation also funds a fleet of rapid response vehicles on the ground in counties like Mayo, Donegal, and Dublin.
These vehicles are staffed by volunteer critical care doctors and also by community-based GPs.
They are tasked by the National Ambulance Service to treat trauma and medical emergencies within a 40-50km range.
The fleet of doctors was tasked 809 times in 2021 bringing the total number of missions across the organisation to more than 1,300.