NI air ambulance may not be up and running in time for NW 200
Uncertainty remained last night over whether an air ambulance service will be ready in time for the start of the North West 200 road races next May.
The Department of Health said a helipad at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast remains at least six to nine months away - dependent on when a business case for the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) is completed.
A spokeswoman said an aviation service provider for HEMS has been procured - Babcock Mission Critical Services - and a business case is currently being prepared by the Ambulance Service.
The department could not confirm last night when the HEMS service as a whole will be ready to be launched.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which does not currently have an air ambulance service.
The HEMS was led by Dr John Hinds, who died following a motorcycle crash in July 2015.
Dr Hinds regularly worked at the North West 200 races, following riders on his own motorbike and treating those injured in crashes.
Earlier this year Chancellor George Osborne announced £4.5m to help provide an air ambulance for Northern Ireland.
The charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) is involved with planning the service.
HEMS is envisaged to be based at Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove - where it will be within a 25-minute flight time of any part of Northern Ireland - and it will transport patients to the Royal.
DUP MLA Paul Frew has called on Health Minister Michelle O'Neill and her officials do "everything they can to ensure the process is carried out within an appropriate time frame".
"The implementation of the air ambulance had a high level of public support and many would like to see it in place as soon as possible," he said.
"However I do recognise there are processes which have to take place. It is important that these are done properly and that a first class service is put in place.
"Furthermore medical staff and those in the health profession need to be confident that the right model of care is in place, so that they can carry out their job effectively."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Planning is under way by the Ambulance Service and Health and Social Care Board to implement a doctor-led, daylight hours HEMS in line with the AAA Framework for a High Performing Air Ambulance Service.
"The minister will make a further announcement about the details of the operating model and service commencement once she has received advice from the Chief Medical Officer on the clinical and patient safety aspects.
"The partnership between the Ambulance Service and the AANI will also be finalised at this time in a Memorandum of Understanding.
"The charity will work in partnership with the Ambulance Service to provide the aviation side of the service and fund the non-medical costs of HEMS.
"The medical staff and equipment will be provided and funded by Health and Social Care services," the spokesperson added.