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Real-life flying doctor in Oz says air ambulance would be ideal tribute to pal John

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 22/01/2016

Sydney-based consultant Dr Brian Burns with his friend John Hinds (above). Right: Brian’s
Northern Irish-born wife Victoria and daughters Abigail and Emily
Sydney-based consultant Dr Brian Burns with his friend John Hinds (above). Right: Brian’s Northern Irish-born wife Victoria and daughters Abigail and Emily
Brian Burns
Brian’s Northern Irish-born wife Victoria and daughters Abigail and Emily

A friend of inspirational 'flying doctor' John Hinds has spoken of the importance of launching an air ambulance for Northern Ireland "as soon as possible".

Dr Brian Burns was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of the first inaugural lecture in memory of Dr Hinds, an Irish road racing doctor.

Sydney-based consultant Dr Burns, who works for a world-renowned team of flying doctors in Australia, said Northern Ireland could also have a world-class air trauma centre, but it needed to be funded by the Government.

Speaking ahead of the ending of a public consultation on an air ambulance, the father-of-two told how such a service would be a great tribute to Dr Hinds and said the "world is watching" for the decision about a helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS).

"It would be amazing if we could get a commitment date or have the service up and running," Brian added. "I know the Wales Air Ambulance was up very quickly, so there is no reason why we could not go from an agreement to up and running in six months.

"Ideally, what you would have would be a fully Government-funded model, and the control and integration would be through the health service.

"For some reason, in Northern Ireland and the Republic, a HEMS is seen as a luxury. Our view is the absolute opposite - it is a necessity to have this trauma network. There is no point in having a mature trauma network only for someone to be an hour-and-a-half away from a trauma centre and not get the care he or she needs to survive."

During his career Dr Hinds (above) followed road racers, travelling at top speed on his own high-powered bike. When they crashed he could be there in seconds. He saved many lives before his untimely death in an accident while providing medical cover at a Skerries 100 practice session.

The last time Brian saw John was at a Social Media and Critical Care Conference (SMACC) in Chicago in 2015, where he found him excited about developments in the service.

"We spent a lot of time talking and he was excited as the HEMS discussion had just got going again," Brian said. "He was very positive and optimistic. He had got a good response from the Health Minister and was very engaged."

Dr Burns, a 42-year-old from Dublin, also told how John had touched many people's lives, including his own. "He was such an inspirational person who spoke with such charisma and passion that it motivated people in a special way," he said.

"I came across John five years ago, largely through his social media presence. My wife's father was critically ill. She is from Magherafelt and was out here in Australia. Her family are not really medical, so I tried to find out what was going on (in Northern Ireland), but found it a bit challenging. I picked up the phone and contacted John. He contacted an intensive care specialist and got information to give to my wife's family. When I met John face-to-face in Northern Ireland, we just hit it off.

"The SMACC for 2016 is in Dublin in June - that will have 2,200 delegates from around the world involved. It will be the first conference since John passed away. He had previously spoken at one in Australia and just blew everyone away. He was just amazing."

Since his death Dr Janet Acheson, John's partner, and his family have campaigned for an air ambulance service, with a petition they launched attracting approximately 80,000 signatures.

"She has been just amazing in her commitment to try and ensure John's legacy remains and in the right way," Brian said. "Janet has had to deal with grief and with dedicating herself to this. It is hard for her, but she is amazing and an inspirational figure."

Brian will fly back to Northern Ireland next week for the first memorial John Hinds lecture in Belfast on January 29. "It is an honour," he said. "I'll talk about what John did in contributing to the trauma world.

"Everyone in Northern Ireland needs to be aware that the world is watching what occurs regarding this. If there is no development of service and the medical trauma service does not get up and running, it will be noted. This can be a world-class service if it is done the right way. I'm sure it will be."

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