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BMA votes to throw weight behind calls for air ambulance

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 03/03/2016

Dr John Hinds passionately advocated the establishment of an air ambulance service before his death
Dr John Hinds passionately advocated the establishment of an air ambulance service before his death

A leading doctor's union has thrown its weight behind supporting a government-funded, doctor-led air ambulance in Northern Ireland.

The British Medical Association (BMA) NI publicly backed lobbying the DHSSPS to set up the Helicopter Emergency Service (HEMS) at a major conference yesterday. There has been a huge campaign for the air ambulance to be established in memory of Dr John Hinds who died last year.

Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK which does not have a helicopter emergency medical service. 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.

A public consultation on an air ambulance service ended in January, however a decision has yet to be made on whether or not it will be introduced. The BMA's commitment was made during the UK Consultants Conference 2016 which met in London.

The motion, put forward at the conference by Dr Anne Carson, chair of BMA Northern Ireland's Consultant Committee, expressed "dismay that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which is not covered by a HEMS as part of a trauma network".

It was passed unanimously by conference. Dr Carson said she was "delighted" by the support.

"I look forward to taking this issue to our newly elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly, post-election," she said.

"The HEMS model here should be funded directly by the government to ensure sustainability of the service and - given the skills needed and advances in interventions in a trauma situation - it should be led by doctors and paramedics."

John Hinds, known as one of the flying doctors of Irish road racing, was fatally injured last July as he provided medical cover at a Skerries 100 practice session in Co Dublin.

John, a consultant anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital, campaigned for a dedicated helicopter emergency medical service.

Speaking in January, Dr Acheson said: "If anything good comes out of John's death, it will be that there are lives saved.

"In some ways, this is much bigger than John. His death has brought this into the spotlight in a way I don't think it would have been otherwise. That's a positive I have to take."

The cost of the service is £2.38m, with annual running costs of £1.8m. Last September Health Minister Simon Hamilton said he was committed to the idea.

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