IRELAND’S first charitably-funded Air Ambulance is to be grounded on April 3rd – a move that will put lives at risk, according to its operations manager.
Ruth Bruton of Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) – the charitable organisation that established the service in July 2019 – confirmed: ‘It is to be grounded indefinitely from April 3rd due to lack of funds.’
She said the board of the ICRR are ‘distraught’ at having to cease operations and withdraw this frontline service during the current crisis.
‘We are incredibly upset,’ she added, ‘that lives will be lost due to the grounding of this service, especially at this time, during the pandemic and considering how incredibly successful the service has been to date.’
The Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) was operated by ICRR but it was staffed by National Ambulance Service medical personnel.
During its eight months of operations, the HEMS had flown 351 missions and saved countless lives by transporting them swiftly to their nearest hospitals.
The operations manager said the ICRR had already implemented harsh cost-cutting measures in an effort to continue the service – a move that included the laying off of non-essential staff, cutting the hours of the current staff, and introducing a five-day operational week.
Ruth Bruton expressed the ICRR’s ‘sincere thanks to the people of Ireland who supported this service and kept it flying for the last eight months, you have all been part of a community that has saved hundreds of lives and impacted many, many families. ‘We could not have been able to get off the ground without the support of every single person who donated money, gave their time to fundraise, or share our vision,’ she added.
All fundraising avenues have been extinguished, due to the current pandemic. As a last resort, ICRR immediately sought interim support from government. However, it has yet to receive any response regarding interim supports to keep this vital frontline service flying as cardiac arrests, strokes, farming accidents and road traffic collisions still occur amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North West Michael Moynihan said funding must be found to ensure that the service can be maintained.
Deputy Moynihan said: ‘Communities across Cork and Kerry came together to get this service off the ground and in the eight months it has been up and running it has responded to more than 350 call-outs across the south. It is an essential medical response service and has undoubtedly saved lives in the short time it has been operational.
‘The Irish Community Rapid Response (ICCR) and the National Ambulance Service have been running the service but are now warning that they will have to ground the helicopter from next Friday because they have run out of funding.
‘This is a seriously worrying development and must be addressed. The funding must be found to keep this essential service operational, otherwise lives will be lost.
‘I understand our health services are pushed to the limit as the pandemic continues. However, our emergency services must be resourced. Helicopter emergency medical services need to be protected and I am calling on the Health Minister to intervene and ensure that this vital resource is maintained,’ concluded Deputy Moynihan.