The Covid-19 pandemic has stalled plans for a helipad at Cork University Hospital (CUH) - the latest delay to hit the delivery of the long-awaited piece of critical infrastructure.
And health chiefs said they can't say when the work will start because a range of other projects on the hospital campus must be done first to facilitate it.
The news comes after a weekend which saw three patients airlifted to CUH for treatment, with the helicopter involved in each of the missions landing on pitches at a nearby GAA club.
From there, the patients were transferred to an ambulance for road transfer to the hospital, an arrangement which has been in place for over a decade.
Medical experts have likened the arrangement to sprinting the first 90m of a 100m race, only to crawl the last 10m.
The Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) charity-funded air ambulance, HeliMed 92, was involved in one medevac on Saturday and two on Sunday.
The previous weekend, the Irish Coast Guard’s Waterford-based Rescue 117, a larger S92 aircraft, airlifted a father and son saved from drowning off Fountainstown to Cork Airport for transfer to CUH.
A spokesperson for CUH said staff at HSE Estates have been focused on delivering Covid-related infrastructure since March.
This meant that progress has "slowed" on the infrastructural projects that need to be advanced on the CUH campus, including the relocating of certain services and topographical features, to facilitate the helipad project.
“A definitive timeline for the development of the helipad will be confirmed once the inter-dependant infrastructural works have been completed and the helipad construction is ready to be tendered,” a spokesperson said.
The delivery of the helipad will require the demolition of the hospital’s boilerhouse chimney, to ensure a safe flight path, and the construction of a new two-storey staff car park on the western side of the campus to replace the parking spaces which will be lost to the helipad.
CUH has been without a helipad since 2003 when the landing pad in the south-eastern corner of the campus was decommissioned to make way for the construction of a new emergency department.
Construction of a landing pad on the roof of the new building was ruled out at the time on budgetary, aviation, and engineering grounds.
There have been several missed target dates over the years for the delivery of a replacement landing pad.
Aviation consultants subsequently identified a suitable site in the north-eastern area of the hospital campus which is currently used as a staff car park.
The HSE was allocated some €1.8m funding to pursue the project and a planning application was submitted to Cork City Council in late 2018.
The ground-based helipad was designed specifically to cater for the Coast Guard's S92 aircraft as well as the Irish Air Corps' AW139 and the EC135 P2+ helicopters which are all involved in aeromedical services in Ireland.
Documents lodged as part of the planning application showed how important the S92 is, having conducted 54 of the 89 helicopter transfers to CUH in 2015, 12 of the 28 transfers in 201, and 16 of the 35 transfers in 2017.
ICRR’s air ambulance service was launched later but it’s understood that their AW109 aircraft can also land on the proposed helipad.
Despite objections from some residents who live next to the hospital and close to the proposed flight path, all citing concerns about noise and safety, the project was granted approval, with conditions, last July.
Among the conditions was a restriction on the use of the helipad to emergency patient transfer flights, and to organ donation flights, only.
The project includes the installation of a two-metre high acoustic screening barrier on the northern edge of the helipad close to adjoining homes to mitigate against aircraft noise.