Doctors from around the world have written an open letter to express concern about Ireland’s first community air ambulance.
22 Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) experts, from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Norway, are worried that the life-saving service will not be doctor-led, as most are across the world.
The country’s first charity air ambulance landed in Kerry on Friday and will enter full-time, daylight hours next month and be based in Cork. The service will cost €2m to run annually and is to be funded through community and donor contributions. It will have an advanced paramedic and an emergency medical technician (EMT) leading the medical care.
The air ambulance is expected to respond to 500 calls per year and bring the population of a 10,000-square-mile area within 20 minutes of critical medical care. Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) — a charity dedicated to pre-hospital care — is running the service, in co-operation with the HSE National Ambulance Service.
The international flying doctors are concerned that the service is paramedic-led. In a five-page open letter, they said: “This is not up to the standard expected of a HEMS and will not be able to provide advanced, pre-hospital medical and trauma care to the critically ill and injured patients it is tasked to. It will not be a flying ED (emergency department) or ICU.”
The letter stated that a doctor-led service would “improve clinical outcomes, decrease morbidity and mortality”.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “With regard to the content of the open letter, it should be noted that, from the outset, any new air ambulance service will operate as an extension of the existing Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS).
“The EAS, based in Athlone, has been successfully operating for many years in partnership with the Irish Air Corps, with the crewing model of an advanced paramedic and an emergency medical technician.
“The spectrum of patients dealt with by our EAS differs from aeromedical services in other countries, who have physician-led crews. Our EAS deals with less trauma, and more acute medicine (STEMI heart attacks and stroke, in particular).
“Last year, the National Ambulance Service (NAS) analysed EAS activity and found that 92% of our patients’ needs were met within the advanced paramedic scope of practice. As our aeromedical service evolves, we will continue to review how we can provide the best possible level of care for patients”.