Danny Healy-Rae urges Coveney to save charity air ambulance

Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae has asked Simon Coveney to save the country’s first charity air ambulance.

The Irish Community Rapid Response service is due to close this week as funds have - yet again - dried up.

In January, Health Minister Simon Harris told the HSE to save it, the first indication that the State might bail the charity out since it first warned last December it will ground the service if it didn’t get a large injection of cash.

Although the National Ambulance Service (NAS) provides medical staff and coordinates the taskings, the charity needs €2 million-a-year to fund the helicopters, pilots, fuel and its airbase. But the funds have run out again and the charity’s normal funding stream has been decimated due to Covid-19.

Today, it tweeted: “The ICRR Air Ambulance is in its final days of operation. We have no funds left to keep flying. We are not just a charity, we are a national 999/112 response asset. Please ask your local TD/Representative to support us through interim funding from Government.”

Mr Healy-Rae said: “I got onto Simon Coveney’s office and asked him to intervene.

“These are extraordinary times and I have asked that the charity be funded throughout the crisis.”

A Service Level Agreement the charity signed with the National Ambulance Service states if ICRR runs out of cash, the HSE will not be liable.

In January, the Department of Health said that Mr Harris had asked the NAS to work with the ICRR to ensure “every effort is made to protect service provision”.

A HSE spokesperson said: “The National Ambulance Service cannot comment on any funding arrangements or issues that the charity may have.

“The National Ambulance Service will continue to provide medical staff and task coordination of the service as per our agreement with the charity.”

The Department of Health was asked if it would consider funding the air ambulance during the crisis but it did not supply a comment.

On March 26, the charity said on its website: “Ireland’s first charitably funded Air Ambulance is to be grounded indefinitely from April 3, 2020 due to lack of funds.

“ICRR had already implemented harsh cost-cutting measures in an effort to continue which included the laying off of non-essential staff, cutting hours of current staff and the already introduced five-day operational week.”

It added: “All fundraising avenues have been extinguished due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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