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Air ambulance service gets green light as Northern Ireland's minister commits to funding

Victory for people power as campaign inspired by work of tragic biker medic Dr John Hinds to secure a dedicated air ambulance for Northern Ireland gets go-ahead as Health Minister commits to the service

By David Young

The air ambulance dream of motorcycle racing's 'Flying Doctor' John Hinds is a giant step closer as Stormont Health Minister Simon Hamilton threw his weight behind the project and committed to transform trauma services.

Dr Hinds, who died while providing medical cover at a Skerries 100 practice session in Dublin in July, had said the use of helicopters to speed the injured to hospital was a necessity - not a luxury.

The death of the popular and respected medic galvanised the motorcycling community and wider public into action to realise his dream and the minister's announcement yesterday is being seen as a victory for 'people power'.

Costs for the helicopter emergency medical service (Hems) are estimated at £2.38m - plus a further £1.8m a year to run.

It would operate throughout Northern Ireland and fly to help seriously injured people with a skilled major trauma team on board.

There was a strong positive reaction to the minister's statement.

David McCallister, Secretary of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre), said: "This is very good news indeed.

"It's what Dr John had been working towards for years.

"The whole motorcycle community will welcome this very positive news.

"Simon Hamilton is the first minister to put a figure on the cost of providing this vital service, and it's very encouraging that he's throwing his weight being this vital project."

Anne Forsythe, Secretary of the North Armagh Motorcycle Club which organises the Tandragee 100, said: "This is a great step in the right direction - not only for the motorcycle racing community, but for Northern Ireland as a whole.

"If Minister Hamilton's announcement today takes us a step closer to realising Dr John Hinds' dream of an air ambulance service, it will be fantastic."

Chairman of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre) Harris Healey said he was delighted.

"This is marvellous news. Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles which does not have an emergency air ambulance service - so while it is especially welcome to the motorcycle community, it will be of benefit to everyone."

According to the minister, the service will play a key part in a new regional trauma network.

He said: "I believe that the time is right to transform our major trauma services with the development of the new Critical Care Building at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the supportive public debate on the need for a helicopter emergency medical service providing the opportunity for this.

"I am therefore announcing today my commitment to further strengthen our existing high quality trauma services by enabling clinicians to take this service to the next level."

A public consultation will be carried out to determine the details of the service, which is expected to operate out of an airport in Co Fermanagh.

Mr Hamilton said he hoped a "robust and recurrent charitable funding contribution" could be secured to help finance the service.

A campaign calling for the establishment of an air ambulance was launched in the wake of the death of Dr Hinds.

Mr Hamilton said: "I believe that my announcements today hold the prospect of implementing the vision for major trauma services which the late Dr John Hinds, and his colleagues, have highlighted."

More than 64,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the provisions of an emergency air ambulance service for Northern Ireland.

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