Campaign for air ambulance service goes to Stormont
The campaign to secure an air ambulance service for Northern Ireland will be taken to Stormont next week.
A petition with more than 70,000 signatures backing the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (Hems) - which the late Dr John Hinds had passionately called for before his death - will be handed over next Tuesday.
The road-racing volunteer doctor saved the lives of many motorcycle riders but tragically lost his own life during a practice session in Co Dublin on July 3.
Known as the "flying doctor", the emergency medicine specialist worked in Craigavon Area Hospital but was widely known and respected throughout the road-racing fraternity for his love of the sport and his dedication to protecting lives.
TUV leader Jim Allister will receive the petition from the Hems for Northern Ireland campaign group and will pass it on to Health Minister Simon Hamilton.
However, while the need for Northern Ireland to have its own dedicated air ambulance service is generally accepted by the Assembly, it could be between three to five years before it becomes a reality here.
The North Antrim MLA told the Belfast Telegraph last night that it could take up to £2m to buy a new fully-fitted emergency medical helicopter and a similar amount each year to run it.
He first came across Dr Hinds earlier this year after it emerged that injured North West 200 spectator Violet McAfee's life was saved thanks to Dr Hinds' on-the-spot treatment and the fact that a medical helicopter was used to take her to hospital in Belfast.
But the helicopter came from Sligo on loan from the Irish government, as opposed to the region's own service which every devolved region in the UK has apart from Northern Ireland.
Mr Allister said: "My interest in learning about why we didn't have our own air ambulance service was piqued after that and it developed from there.
"Dr Hinds contacted me and briefed me and I brought him to Stormont where he met with others and you couldn't help but be impressed by his professionalism and dedication to saving lives. It was absolutely heart-breaking to hear that he had died in an accident. You only had to meet him once to realise what a talent he was," he said.
"Establishing an air ambulance service would be a nice legacy to the family for his dedication."
The signatures come from a Change.org petition set up by John Allen and Stephen Henderson, and physically supported by other campaign supporters.
It emerged yesterday that the people behind Hems for NI had taken the unusual step to clarify to its followers that a separate fundraising campaign which had been set up was not affiliated to them or to Dr Hinds' family.
A tweet from @HEMS_NI tweeted: "Currently John's family haven't started a trust or a fundraising campaign.
"When this changes we will let you all know."