Two air ambulances set for Northern Ireland after hero doctor's campaign
After years of campaigning, Northern Ireland is set to get not just one, but two air ambulances to provide 24-hour cover all year round.
The campaign hit the headlines last year after the tragic death of motorcycling medic Dr John Hinds, one of the flying doctors who provided emergency trauma care at road racing.
Now his dream is one step closer to reality as the charity behind the service has announced the identity of its aircraft supplier - Babcock Mission Critical Services Onshore.
Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) also revealed it will have two helicopters, meaning the service will be on duty 365 days a year.
Babcock will also provide aviation training and the pilots for both helicopters. It has decades of experience in providing Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) across the UK and currently operates from more than 20 UK bases, responding to hundreds of emergency calls every week.
It is hoped the introduction of the air ambulance will slash the length of time it takes for critically ill patients to be transported to hospital for life-saving treatment.
It will also mean highly skilled doctors will be on the scene of medical emergencies much quicker, particularly in rural parts of Northern Ireland, where it can be almost impossible to meet the 'golden hour' target. This is the first hour after a traumatic injury, when emergency treatment is likely to be most successful.
Dr John Hinds was a 35-year-old consultant anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital when he died after an accident while providing medical cover at a Skerries 100 practice session in July last year. He was a leading light in the field of trauma medicine. Dr Hinds worked voluntarily as a road racing medic for the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (MCUI), providing rapid response medical aid at road race meetings across Ireland, and saved many lives.
He was also a leading voice in the campaign for an air ambulance service in Northern Ireland before his life was tragically cut short.
The aircraft will be based at Belfast International Airport, Co Antrim, where they will be within a 25-minute flight time of any part of Northern Ireland.
When he announced the introduction of the service, the former health minister, Simon Hamilton, said the service will initially respond to trauma calls. However, it will expand to help patients suffering from life-threatening health conditions, such as stroke and heart attacks.
AANI trustee Ray Foran said he is delighted that they have been able to select a company to help provide the service.
"After a Europe-wide tender process we are pleased to announce Babcock as our HEMS provider," he said.
"The contract will initially run for three years with a possible extension for a further two years."
Tim Shattock, managing director of Babcock, said: "I am extremely pleased AANI has selected Babcock to help them bring this vital new life-saving service to the people of Northern Ireland. I'm looking forward to working with AANI and their stakeholders as we prepare to get operations under way."
AANI chairman Ian Crowe said: "Having two air ambulances permanently based in Northern Ireland will significantly reduce maintenance downtime.
"Having one helicopter on duty every day will ensure Air Ambulance Northern Ireland is there for those who need it."