A NEW Health Service Executive (HSE) air ambulance service is up and running and will cover the south-east and south-west of the country.
The helicopter, an EC 135 model, is staffed with a National Ambulance Service (NAS) advanced paramedic and two pilots.
The service replaced a charity-funded helicopter which was based in Rathcoole, Co Cork.
The changeover will mark the first time that the service will be fully State funded — having previously been community-funded since its launch in 2019.
The air ambulance came into service on February 11 and replaced Irish Community Air Ambulance (ICAA), the charity that established the service.
ICAA has now changed its name to Critical, with its focus on “expanding” its network of volunteer emergency medical responders across the country in partnership with the NAS.
The ICAA responded to more than 1,800 incidents in the three years it was in existence.
The crew will deal with emergency callouts to major emergencies such as road collisions and urgent medical events where time is of the essence. The patient will then be flown to the nearest hospital dependent on medical needs.
A HSE spokesperson said: “On Monday, December 5, 2022, the National Ambulance Service officially signed contracts with Gulf Med Aviation for the delivery of a dedicated helicopter emergency medical service to be situated in the south-west of Ireland.
“Gulf Med Aviation became operational effective from Saturday, February 11 2023 when they took over from the previous provider. This followed a competitive tender process carried out in 2022.”
The contract is for an initial two years. Gulf Med Aviation is based at Rathcoole and supports emergency responses when called upon by the National Ambulance Service.
Previously the NAS worked in partnership with Irish Community Air Ambulance (now Critical) through a service-level agreement to deliver helicopter emergency medical services across the south-west.
The HSE would not be drawn on where the specially adapted helicopter was bought from, how much it cost to purchase, and how much it will cost to run.
However, it is understood from HSE sources that the contract is worth €1m annually.