Belfast Telegraph

Government urged to do more to address air ambulance recruitment crisis

Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary said people in remote areas depended on the service.

The Defence Forces have manned many air ambulances (Julien Behal/PA)
The Defence Forces have manned many air ambulances (Julien Behal/PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

The government has been urged to do more to address the recruitment crisis in the air ambulance service after it emerged that senior management has had to step in and fly missions.

The drop in the number of pilots has meant that the Defence Forces can no longer staff the service as it currently exists.

Fianna Fail deputy leader Dara Calleary said that people who live in remote areas depend on the service.

Referring to a report in the Irish Times, Mr Calleary told the Dail that the Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) has provided 848 hours of flight time in 2016, however that has fallen to 581 last year.

He added that the air ambulance service based in Athlone has provided immediate access for people who have become suddenly or acutely ill to a central hospital and to life saving treatment.

Mr Calleary added: “It was introduced to supplement the traditional road based ambulance service. 

“A lot of these people who live in remote areas are more involved in RTAs (road traffic accidents) than in urban areas.

“We know that the ambulance service generally is under inordinate pressure at the moment and ambulance response times are way out of what they’re supposed to be.

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Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary (Niall Carson/PA)

“The ambulance service is hugely important and it is a service that has worked and that has given certainty to medical professionals and to families and gives certainty to people who are involved in very acute situation.

“Yesterday, at the Raco (Representative Association of Commissioned Officers) conference it was revealed that the Defence Forces are no longer in a position to comprehensively staff the service as it currently exists.

“A Lieutenant Colonel and senior management are being forced to fly the service as those who traditionally did have left the Defence Forces.

“Do you accept that there are problems within the air ambulance service and can you give a guarantee on behalf of the government to its future that will continue to provide the level of service and response times.”

Communications Minister Richard Bruton told the Dail that the recent Pay Commission has recommended there would be a pilot retention scheme put in place.

He also referred to the number of pilots leaving for the private sector which caused a challenge in retaining staff.

He added: “We all do depend on the Ambulance Service and many of us have had cause to be very appreciative of the commitment and service that those and working in it provide.

“I can give the Deputy an absolute assurance that we are committed to the Air Ambulance service.

“We are also committed to improving and expanding the number of paramedic training places and the paramedic numbers to support the growing demand that is calling our ambulance services.

“There is no doubt that one of the areas where there has been difficulty in retaining staff within the Defence Forces is in the air corps, and as you also know the recent Pay Commission has recommended that there would be a pilot retention scheme put in place.

“We now have the basis for moving forward to tackle the issue of the difficulty of retention in the air corps.”

Mr Calleary said the Department of Defence has failed to follow through to address the gaps in the service.

“Now is the time to act minister,” he added.

PA

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