Belfast Telegraph

Health chiefs urged to consider options for flying children to UK hospitals

Health chiefs have been told to consider a charity funded air ambulance to fly seriously ill children to British hospitals for transplants.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) also advised that the best option for night-time cover for life-saving transfers in the next six months is to negotiate new 12-hour rosters to keep Irish Coast Guard pilots in the skies.

The watchdog suggested that the Department of Health seeks changes to aviation rules to allow crews to operate as an air ambulance again while on 24 hour shifts.

Hiqa's deputy chief executive Dr Mairin Ryan said ideally there should be an integrated aeromedical service rather than one designed for priority one patients who need surgery within eight hours.

"We realise the deep concern that the families of children awaiting heart and liver transplants must feel about how their loved ones can travel to the UK for a transplant," she said.

"We believe that the advice we have provided to the minister and the HSE offers the best possible solutions in both the immediate future and in the longer term."

Search and rescue crews have not been flying patients to Britain since September 5 as aviation rules dictate they should only carry out the duties when on 12-hour shifts.

The Air Corps took on the role on an almost full-time basis but last Monday it stopped covering from 7pm to 7.30am due to a lack of pilots.

A private air ambulance and crew has been based at Dublin Airport on standby since then to cover the shortfall.

Hiqa said three quarters of priority one transfers occur roughly during the night where transplant patients have four hours to get to a hospital after a donor heart becomes available and six hours for a liver.

It is understood no transfers of transplant patients were carried out at night in the last week and there were no delays or cancellations of proposed flights.

In its report for the Department of Health, Hiqa said the immediate solution is for a private firm to deliver a dedicated night-time service.

But it said its preferred long-term solution is for the Irish Coast Guard or the Air Corps to be given the role.

The next contract for coast guard services is due to run from 2022.

Hiqa said this could provide for an additional aircraft and crew to act as an air ambulance.

In September limitations were placed on Irish Coast Guard crews who doubled up to cover hospital transfers while on 24 hour search and rescue shifts.

The restrictions were enforced as the Irish Aviation Authority continues its investigation into the cause of the Rescue 116 crash off the coast of Mayo in March where four crew died.

Last year Irish Coast Guard crews flew eight patients to British hospitals, including seven children for a liver transplant and one for a combined liver and kidney transplant.

They also flew three of the first four transfers this year.

From September 5 the Air Corps carried out four priority one transfers, including three night-time flights, two of which were on the same evening.

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