Northern Ireland

Simon Hamilton to bring in Northern Ireland air ambulance

An air ambulance transfers an injured woman to hospital during the 2015 North West 200. Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption In June, an air ambulance came from Sligo to transfer an injured spectator to hospital in Belfast during the 2015 North West 200 races in County Antrim

Health Minister Simon Hamilton has said he is committed to establishing an emergency medical helicopter service in Northern Ireland.

Mr Hamilton said it would be a key part of the Northern Ireland Trauma Network which is being established.

He said the exact model for the helicopter service would be determined after a public consultation.

The estimated cost for the service is £2.38m for initial infrastructure, with £1.8m annual operating costs.

"Given the difficult financial climate for the health service with many competing priorities for funding we will need to establish if it is possible to secure a robust and recurrent charitable funding contribution for this service," Mr Hamilton said.

"I therefore welcome the recent approaches from potential charitable sources who potentially could raise funds and provide other support."

During June's North West 200 motorbike races in County Antrim, a helicopter was dispatched from County Sligo in the Republic of Ireland to attend a serious accident.

A spectator was transferred to hospital in Belfast when she was struck by a motorcycle that had left the road.

Afterwards, motorcycle race medic and intensive care consultant Dr John Hinds said the establishment of an emergency medical helicopter was a necessity, not a luxury.

In July, Dr Hinds was killed in a track accident.

"I believe that my announcements today hold the prospect of implementing the vision for major trauma services which the late Dr John Hinds, and his colleagues, have highlighted," Mr Hamilton said.

"I want to pay tribute to all of our trauma clinicians, nurses, paramedics and support staff for the exemplary service that they provide in striving to save lives."

The absence of an emergency helicopter was also highlighted during the G8 summit in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, in 2013, when organisers had to rent an air ambulance from Scotland.

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