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'A helicopter medical service will make a lasting difference to the people of this country'

Published 13/10/2015

The full text of Janet Acheson's address at Stormont yesterday:

This is an incredibly difficult day for myself and John's family as the one inspirational person who should be here is not. Yet we are here because we believe there could be no better legacy to my incredible other half, than saving lives. We sincerely hope the growing momentum to establish a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service continues so that lives can be saved across Northern Ireland. John, if he were here, would be incredibly proud at the groundswell of support which has been shown for this life-saving cause.

I would like to thank Jim Allister for organising this event and for all the work that he has done. I know John was very impressed with Jim's commitment to the project when they met earlier this year.

I also acknowledge last month's announcement of a consultation on the establishment of a HEMS and trauma network, by the Health Minister Simon Hamilton.

The support for John's work - which he was so passionate about - has been humbling, at times overwhelming but most of all inspiring. It has also given us strength through some very tough days.

John's dream for the country he lived in was the establishment of a first-class, world-leading trauma network - with a doctor-led Helicopter Emergency Medical Service at its core. It is testament to his standing within the HEMS and pre-hospital care community across the world that we have a representative from Sydney HEMS - Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Dr Brian Burns - presenting today. There have also been serious global commitments of support, including that of London HEMS and from multiple HEMS services on both sides of the Atlantic to support John's goal with the sharing of knowledge, training and governance.

He believed, and we share the view, that Northern Ireland's HEMS should be funded in the long term by the government to give it stability. We realise there may need to be initial and ongoing charitable support but surely it must be the role of the government to lead the project and ensure secure long term funding as in the other devolved jurisdictions of Scotland and Wales. In Scotland and Wales this has been a resounding success.

We also believe the service should be based from a logistical and response aspect in the Greater Belfast area, where there is a valuable concentration of appropriately trained medical and aviation staff. This also leaves open the option of co-siting aircraft to share resources.

The irony is that John, a consultant anaesthetist and intensivist with world class pre-hospital skills, chose to work in a country with no trauma system or HEMS. I am a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, but what unites all medical people is the desire to make people better and ultimately save lives.

Today, we have a unique opportunity to do just that.

A properly structured Helicopter Emergency Medical Service will make a lasting difference to the people of this country.

Since the publication of the 2003 HEMS feasibility study until June this year, 1,508 people have died in road traffic accidents alone in Northern Ireland. Considering the survival impact of a doctor-led HEMS in countries who have adopted such services, between 215 and 600 of these people would still be alive had HEMS been available in Northern Ireland.

What John did so well was not only bringing people back from the brink of death but to also "save brains", so they could return to their families and lead a normal life.

We have such a life here today, seven-year-old Shaun McCann with his mum Jessica.

On July 14, 2013 Shaun suffered a life threatening head injury as a result of a simple fall at his home in Co Roscommon. The sort of accident that can befall any family.

Shaun's mum Jessica knew instantly this wasn't a normal fall and called for an ambulance. The Irish Air Ambulance - Medevac 112 - was staffed that day by Sgt. Murray, Lt O'Raw, Capt Daly and advanced paramedic Matsviak.

By chance on board that day, having just transported a critically injured rider from the Walderstown road races to the trauma unit in Dublin, was Doc John. He volunteered to attend with the air ambulance paramedic to Shaun's home. Recognising the severity of Shaun's head injury Doc John provided Shaun with a general anaesthetic and placed him in an induced coma to protect his brain. He provided mobile intensive care level support whilst Shaun was being flown to a hospital with the specialities necessary to deal with his injuries. As you can see today, Shaun made a full recovery and two weeks ago welcomed his baby sister Alana to the family.

But things could have been different: without a pre-hospital doctor, delivered to his home in a timely fashion, Shaun would not have received this intervention until he reached hospital, meaning if Shaun survived at all he was unlikely to be the Shaun we have before us today.

Without an air ambulance Shaun's family would be marking a very different anniversary on July 14 each year.

Today, there are people enjoying time with their families and friends, who some time in the future will end up in a very serious medical emergency.

Their lives will be on the line. This service cannot wait any longer.

Surely they all deserve a helicopter to land close to them and an experienced, specialised doctor-led team to give them enhanced care at the scene and while they are flown back to a world class trauma unit.

That was John's dream - he knew we needed a system to prevent needless deaths and give trauma victims the chance of meaningful life here in Northern Ireland - so I urge you all today to do everything you can to turn it into a reality. Please make it happen. The world is watching. Thank you.

Belfast Telegraph

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