00:00 Saturday 04 October 2008  Written by Jackie Keogh

Step closer to establishing an air ambulance service for West Cork

A CASH injection has brought a voluntary organisation one step closer to establishing a life-saving air ambulance service in West Cork.

The chairman of the West Cork Air Ambulance Service, Mr. John O'Shea, and the vice-chairman, Mr. John Kearney, met the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Mr. Eamon O Cuiv at the national ploughing championship in Kilkenny, last Thursday, to collect an €68,000 grant, which means the group - which has the support of healthcare professionals, the ambulance service, the Health Service Executive and Dr. Cusack of Cork University's accident and emergency service - is now ready to proceed with phase one.

Mr. Kearney said the Government grant represents 80% of the cost of establishing a ground support team comprising of emergency and medical personnel. Since the group was established last December, they have been busy planning and preparing for the launch of the service. And now that the funding is in place, Mr. Kearney said the rapid response unit could be operational by Christmas.

He said they have already ordered a high-speed emergency response vehicle so the medical team can be first on the scene of major accidents to help stabilise casualties before handing them over to ambulance crews for transfer to hospital.

With just four ambulances in West Cork and 1,500 category one emergency calls made every year, Mr. Kearney said the new medical unit will not seek to replace the ambulance service, merely assist it, and the air ambulance service when it is established.

Long-term, he said the group is confident that an air ambulance service will be established in West Cork. In places, like Australia, a flying doctor service is commonplace, but Mr. Kearney said a lot of European countries are now making provision for a similar service, especially in rural areas.

voluntary

Mr. Kearney, who is a business man and owner of the Baltimore Diving Centre, and Captain Sean Mulqueen of Cork, are both fully trained and highly experienced pilots and they say they are willing to give their time voluntarily, on a rota basis, to get the fledgling air ambulance service off the ground.

"The need for such a service in West Cork has been a long-standing issue, particularly for the West Cork islands, where it is difficult to transport ill, or injured, people to the mainland and hospital in Cork," said Mr. Kearney.

"It can take over three hours for a person to be transported from one of the islands to Cork University Hospital. But if we had an aircraft, perhaps a helicopter, on standby it could cut the travel time down to about an hour."

Members of the West Cork Air Ambulance Service believe the time has come for West Cork to have its own flying doctor service because - unlike areas like Dublin, Shannon, Waterford and the northwest region - it does not have its own coastguard helicopter service.

Although it might seem like a huge challenge for a voluntary organisation, Mr. Kearney pointed out that it "has already been done very successfully in the UK, where it is run voluntarily by the regions themselves." And, he said, he is confident that with the continued backing of the health services, as well as the general public, "The dream can be realised within the next few years."

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