Published on June 22nd, 2015 | by Jim Lee0
Ministers confirm Air Corps pilot EAS ‘air ambulance’ service will continue operations but “all options” remain under consideration
On 11th June a special event was held at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel to mark the 1,000th mission of the pilot Emergency Aeromedical Support Service (EAS) which was established in June 2012. At the event it was announced that the Air Corps would continue to provide the service at its current level. Regular readers will recall that the EAS service was originally set up under a Memorandum of Understanding, between the Department of Defence and the Department of Health, as a one year pilot operating out of Custume Barracks, Athlone, to allow the preparation of a report by a Working Group, set up by the Minister for Health to consider how best to provide a permanent EAS service, and more recently for the consideration of that report. The Working Group was set up in 2014 and was chaired by the Department of Health and has representatives from that Department, the HSE and the Department of Health and Social Services, Northern Ireland.
The Air Corps provide the crews from ‘Number 3 Operations Wing’ to fly and maintain an Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter, which is based at Custume Barracks, in Athlone. The National Ambulance Service provides the onboard Advanced Paramedic. There have been repeated extensions of the original one year pilot service agreement while the report was being considered by the Minister for Health, the most recent the was to 3rd June 2015.
The role of the Emergency Aeromedical Support Service is to deliver advanced life support patients, at the scene, by the Advanced Paramedic and attending NAS ground crew. It also provides rapid transport for patients, to the most appropriate hospital, that meets the clinical need of the patient. It provides dedicated aeromedical support to the National Ambulance Service (NAS), particularly for patients in the west, where land ambulance transit times would not be clinically appropriate. The pilot service is focused on the requirements of the HSE Clinical Care Programmes, such as Acute Coronary Care and Stroke and is tasked by the National Aeromedical Coordination Centre, which is based in the National Emergency Operation Centre, in Tallaght. The NAS operates a permanent support team for the EAS, including a dedicated air medical liaison officer, education and training officer and a number of aeromedical advanced paramedics, who crew the aircraft on a rotational basis.
A final decision?
The working group established to look at options for the future delivery of the service, has recommended that a service should be established on a permanent basis. Both Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, have agreed to seek the endorsement of Government for this proposal and commit to an ongoing review of the operation, so as to sustain a quality service into the future.
Welcoming the fact that a Department of Health led Working Group, provided a positive assessment of the quality of the service that has been provided by the Air Corps, Minister Coveney commented, “Whilst the Air Corps has certainly set the benchmark during the pilot phase, and will continue to provide the service at its current level, as would be expected in implementing the report we must and indeed are obliged to keep an open mind as to the many different ways of providing the service and to keep all options under consideration in the context of ensuring a sustainable long term arrangement.”
While it was originally set up as a pilot project between the NAS and the Air Corps, back-up is now provided by the Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) so essentially three governments departments, (Defence, Health and Transport) and two agencies (the Air Corps and the IRCG), will be involved in any future considerations. Ultimately a Government decision will be required to provide for the permanent establishment of a service, including funding arrangements, but in the meantime the existing model of service provision and has been extremely successful. The EAS pilot has established a clear need for an aeromedical emergency service, targeted at the most seriously ill patients, who are at a distance from major acute hospitals. Over one third of the missions undertaken have involved very serious and time-critical STEMI heart attacks. These patients need to be brought to a specialist cardiac catheter unit within 90 minutes of diagnosis by an ambulance crew. In particular, the EAS allows this to be done for patients in remoter parts of the west.
Speaking in Baldonnel Minister Varadkar said: “I congratulate the staff of the Irish Air Corps, the National Ambulance Service, and the Irish Coast Guard for completing 1,000 missions on the 26th May last. This is a great example of what can be achieved by Government Departments working in partnership. This service has been a great step forward in providing access to specialised emergency treatment for patients living in remoter areas. It is also of significance that one third of the missions have been in response to STEMI heart attacks, and have allowed these patients to be treated in a specialist setting within 90 minutes of diagnosis.” Amongst the Air Corps crews operating and maintaining the service in Baldonnel there was a sense of pride as they looked forward to supporting the NAS into the future and continuing to fulfill the motto of 3 Operations Wing “Go Mairidís Beo/That Others May Live”
During the event in Baldonnel, the Air Corps put on a display of the elements involved in an EAS mission (see video), while the Irish Times also produced a video which was a nice round-up of the event, with interviews with Captain Sean McCarthy and Paramedic Kieran Henry of the National Ambulance Service (Video Below)
Each mission a personnel story of hope over adversity
During 2014 the Air Corps completed 107 Air ambulance missions, including 64 national and 47 international transfers of patients. There were also were 353 completed EAS taskings. The Air Corps’ unique ability to conduct multiple missions using fixed wing and rotary wing assets meant that there were several days in 2014 when numerous aeromedical missions were completed at the same time. Each mission represents a personnel story of hope over adversity and usually the crews involved only meet patients and families in very difficult circumstances.
It was a far more joyous affair when the Benhaffaf family visited Casement Aerodrome on the 21st of May to mark the fifth anniversary of twins Hassan and Hussein’s return to Ireland after separation surgery in London (see RTE news item). The family was greeted by the Air Corps crew that flew them home and was given a short tour of Casement Aerodrome and some of its fleet. The twins proved to be two bundles of energy and joy, providing an inspiration to us all in their role as “Ambassadors of Happiness” and the Air Corps were delighted to have been a small part of the twins story.