Plans for a Northern Ireland air ambulance have moved a step closer after the Health Minister pledged his commitment to the project.
Costs for the helicopter emergency medical service (Hems) are estimated at £2.38 million plus a further £1.8 million to run. B ut Simon Hamilton has said it would play a key part of a new regional trauma network.
He said: "I believe that the time is right to transform our major trauma services with the development of the new Critical Care Building at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the supportive public debate on the need for a helicopter emergency medical service providing the opportunity for this.
"I am therefore announcing today my commitment to further strengthen our existing high quality trauma services by enabling clinicians to take this service to the next level."
A public consultation will be carried out to determine the exact Hems model which is expected to operate out of an airport in Co Fermanagh.
Mr Hamilton said he hoped a "robust and recurrent charitable funding contribution" could be secured to help finance the service.
The announcement comes just weeks after the death of Dr John Hinds, who provided medical cover during motorcyle races and was a strong advocate of an air ambulance.
Dr Hinds, who was fatally injured while providing medical cover at a Skerries 100 practice session in Dublin in July, said the use of helicopters to speed the injured to hospital was a necessity not a luxury.
A campaign calling for the establishment of an air ambulance was launched in the wake of his death.
Mr Hamilton said: " I believe that my announcements today hold the prospect of implementing the vision for major trauma services which the late Dr John Hinds, and his colleagues, have highlighted ."