Air ambulance boost so welcome
The vision of tragic motor racing medic Dr John Hinds for improved trauma care in Northern Ireland has taken a major step forward following the announcement by Health Minister Simon Hamilton that he is committed to establishing an air ambulance service.
That is a major part in the jigsaw of what is to be known as the NI Trauma Network centred on the new critical care building at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, which will be the regional centre for the most serious trauma cases.
Speed in delivering the most advanced treatment possible is the key to saving lives following major accidents. Given Northern Ireland's largely rural geography, getting medical help to the scene can take a considerable period of time on occasion.
Dr Hinds, who was a trauma specialist and who provided medical cover at motorcycle race meetings all over Ireland, was passionate about the need for an air ambulance, which he described as a necessity not a luxury.
Tragically he died when his own motorcycle crashed as he was working during the practice session of a race meeting at Skerries on July 3.
His death spurred campaigners to resurrect the campaign for an air ambulance and some 70,000 signatures backing the project were to be delivered to Stormont next week.
The minister has pre-empted that move by announcing that his plan is to go out to public consultation. It is obvious that there is considerable, perhaps overwhelming, support for an air ambulance based in the province, but as ever the ugly reality of finance has to be resolved.
It is estimated that it would cost nearly £2.4m to set up the service and £1.8m in annual running costs. Mr Hamilton has made it clear that given the financial strains on his department he would like to see a charitable body deliver a significant part of the funding. The m inister is correct to point out that he has many competing priorities within his department, but he must ensure that the vision of the trauma network set out is fully realised and properly funded.
This is a project which has the proven capability of saving lives, the primary aim of the health service. Having the most modern hospital facilities for trauma care will be of little consequence if patients cannot be kept alive long enough to reach the operating theatres. That is what the air ambulance offers and it must be allowed to lift off.