An air ambulance helicopter charity in Northern Ireland spent nearly 90% of its funds on set-up costs like collection tins in its first year without any guarantee the project would receive official backing, it was revealed last night.
Since 2007 cross-border group Ireland Air Ambulance (IAA) has raised approximately £700,000 of which over £500,000 was put into its operations like managing and buying thousands of charity boxes.
It aims to launch the helicopter in November and would help people like road traffic accident victims receive speedy medical attention. The group said all its costs were legitimate.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said: “Currently, I have no plans to provide for a publicly-funded air ambulance service.
“As I have said, my priority for some years to come must be to invest in modernising ground ambulance services to enable the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to secure the best possible outcomes for patients to improving its response to emergency life-threatening calls.
“Indeed, this is all the more essential in the current economic climate.”
He said officials met representatives of the helicopter service, known as Alpha 5, several times but it was not possible to make agreements on their participation in emergencies.
“At the most recent meeting, my officials asked Alpha 5 for further evidence of the efficacy of the proposed service and for further assurance about their clinical governance arrangements. That information has not been forthcoming,” he added.
“The public should understand that the health service must be satisfied that Alpha 5 can provide a safe service for patients before we can discuss how the proposed helicopter service might interface with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and contribute effectively to emergency care in Northern Ireland.”
The £500,000 was spent on collecting and providing security for around 15,000 tins. Wages for one full-time member of staff and running costs for an office in west Belfast were also included.
The group said: “In year one nearly 90% of funds received were directly employed to ensure that the charity got onto the strong position for growth that it has today, however given this investment in infrastructure IAA confidently forecast that within a few years over 90% of funds received will be directly spent on running the helicopter and medical crew with the remaining 10% being used to run the entire fundraising and administration aspects of the charity.”
The IAA would cover most of western and northern Ireland across the border. Its sponsors include major supermarkets and the University of Ulster.
The spokesman added: “Whilst IAA would like 100% of income received to go directly to the helicopter and medical crew, there are costs that have to be endured in order to raise funds and run the entire operation, but the service is dedicated to keeping such expenses to a minimum and would like to take this opportunity to thank all the suppliers who have supplied products or services at cost, and in many instances for free.”
Operations director Jerry Carr said the organisation was entirely transparent.
“We don't have a fleet of company vehicles, we don't have palatial offices in the centre of Belfast,” he said.
“We have to ensure we purchase those tins, when we collect them that they are cleaned and re-labelled and sealed.”