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We need our own air ambulance or lives will be lost, North West 200 doctor urges Health Minister

By Suzanne Breen

Published 16/06/2015

An air ambulance at the scene of a road traffic accident in Essex
An air ambulance at the scene of a road traffic accident in Essex

A doctor who has attended people injured in the North West 200 will today tell Health Minister Simon Hamilton that a specialist air ambulance service is urgently needed here to save lives.

Northern Ireland is the only place in western Europe which lacks such a service. Helicopters must currently be borrowed from the PSNI, or the Irish or Scottish Coastguard service, to transport critically injured patients to hospital.

Dr John Hinds, an intensive care consultant and anaesthetist at Craigavon Hospital, is meeting the Health Minister at Stormont to warn him that lives could be lost if Northern Ireland continues without such a service.

The meeting has been arranged by TUV leader Jim Allister.

Dr Hinds told the Belfast Telegraph: "It is a totally unacceptable situation. For those of us involved in trauma care, it is very frustrating. We have effectively a third world system operating here.

"In Manchester, Leeds, London, Scotland, Wales or the Irish Republic, if someone is critically injured, there is an air ambulance team ready to be dispatched. In Northern Ireland, victims are often just driven to the nearest small hospital by ambulance.

Dr Hinds said if a victim has to be taken by air to hospital, medical staff must wait for a helicopter to be made available by the PSNI or the Scottish or Irish Coastguard service.

"And that helicopter borrowed is only a means of transporting the patient to hospital. It doesn't have the specialist crew and equipment on board that air ambulances everywhere else have," he said.

"That specialist crew and equipment are often essential in saving lives at the accident scene.

"What we need in Northern Ireland is what exists everywhere else. A dedicated helicopter with a doctor and paramedic on board, to deliver expert care. The current ad hoc system is risking lives."

Dr Hinds was one of two motorcycle-mounted medics on duty when spectator Violet McAfee was seriously injured in last month's horrific North West 200 crash. Ms McAfee had to be airlifted from Portrush to the RVH by a helicopter from Sligo.

Mr Allister, who will attend the meeting with Dr Hinds and the Health Minister, said: "It's disgraceful that Northern Ireland is left to beg and borrow helicopters for incidents which are a matter of life and death.

"The Health Minister must agree to a specialist air ambulance service now. We can no longer be left to languish with this second-class service compared to other UK citizens."

Case study

The speedy transport to the Royal Victoria Hospital by air ambulance saved Franck Petricola's life after the French rider crashed at last year's North West 200. Petricola sustained a severe head injury, broken neck, punctured lung and complex limb fractures. Without the helicopter he would have been driven to Causeway Hospital which lacks neurosurgical, spinal, thoracic and orthopaedic specialities. Tragically, he was killed two weeks ago in a crash at the Isle of Man TT.

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