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Former Maze prison site could house air ambulance service

Published 17/11/2016

The air ambulance helicopters could be moved to Long Kesh
The air ambulance helicopters could be moved to Long Kesh

The former Maze prison site has been made available as a potential base for Northern Ireland's first air ambulance service.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they were offering land at Long Kesh as a possible operating location.

A final decision on where the service will operate from has not been made. Aldergrove international airport is another option.

The offer by Stormont's political leaders comes amid on-going stalemate over the Maze site, in particular a shelved plan for a peace and reconciliation centre at the one time paramilitary prison.

Two specially designed medical helicopters are to be permanently based in Northern Ireland.

Provision of an air ambulance became a reality when former Chancellor George Osborne pledged £4.5 million towards the project earlier this year.

One ambulance will have the call sign Delta 7, in memory of Dr John Hinds, one of the so-called "flying doctors" of Irish motorcycle racing who campaigned tirelessly for the service before his death in a crash last year. Delta 7 was his call sign when he worked as a medic on the racetrack.

Annual costs of the service are estimated at £1.8 million with much of the money being generated through charity fundraising.

Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness announced the Maze offer in a joint statement.

"We are delighted to make land at Maze Long Kesh available to bring this goal a step closer to reality," they stated.

"This is another example of the Executive working together to deliver results that make a real difference.

"We look forward to an accessible air ambulance service becoming operational as soon as possible to help save lives when time is critical.

"Executive ministers stand ready to do all they can to help to make that happen.

"The service will play an important role as we re-shape our health service in the years ahead and will help ensure that we provide the best possible emergency care for people when speed is of the essence."

The politicians paid tribute to all those who have campaigned, worked, raised funds and donated money for the air ambulance.

"We think particularly today of the late Dr John Hinds, who was a strong advocate of establishing this service," they said.

"It will be a fitting tribute to him."

"Great credit must go to the trustees of the charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland who have worked so hard to deliver the project."

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From Belfast Telegraph