Private firm to run emergency flights to British hospitals

The HSE has put in place a private air ambulance service to bring seriously ill children to British hospitals for transplants after difficulties arose with the night-time service provided by the Air Corps and Irish Coast Guard, writes Catherine Shanahan.

Due to staffing constraints within the Air Corps and regulatory requirements of the Coast Guard, neither has been able to operate a service for priority 1 transfer patients between the hours of 7pm and 7.30am since November 6.

Priority 1 transfer means the transport by air from Ireland to another country within eight hours of a patient requiring emergent medical or surgical treatment, without which their life or health is significantly endangered.

To date, the majority of patients fulfilling these criteria have been children who require transfer to the UK to undergo heart or liver transplant surgery.

Health Minister Simon Harris last night welcomed the publication of the Health Information and Quality Authority’s health technology assessment (HTA) which evaluates treatment and transfer options for patients who require a priority 1 transfer to the UK.

“We need to ensure that, as far as possible, we are able to transfer paediatric transplant patients to the UK quickly, in the event that a suitable organ becomes available,” said Mr Harris.

“The HTA advises that the optimal immediate option is to secure a dedicated night-time service from a private provider.

“I am pleased to confirm that the HSE has put a private provider in place from November 6, thus ensuring that a 24-hour service continues to be available.”

Mr Harris said his department would work with the HSE to consider the best option to address the service need in the short to medium term. “In the longer term, we will have discussions across a number of Government departments in order to come to a considered position as to how air ambulance services are best provided in to the future,” he said.

Hiqa suggested the Department of Health should seek changes in aviation rules to allow crews operate as an air ambulance again while on 24-hour shifts.

“The cost of this option should be compared to the cost associated with the on-going use of a commercial provider or of having a dedicated [Coast Guard] crew on standby at the Dublin base,” said Máirín Ryan, Hiqa’s director of health technology assessment and deputy chief executive.

Hiqa said additional short-term recommendations are that the Department of Health explores the use of an air ambulance service supported by philanthropy and examines whether the Coast Guard can fly patients to the UK under a 24-hour shift following changes to the regulatory framework.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.


 

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