Twenty-one Air Ambulance call outs to Derry, Strabane in 2018

The Air Ambulance. Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia
The Air Ambulance. Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

Derry & Strabane Council has agreed to hold talks on potentially providing financial support for the Air Ambulance Northern Ireland service.

A motion proposing discussions and asking council to commend the work of emergency response charity was tabled at last week’s full council meeting by DUP Alderman David Ramsey.

Praising those who work with the Air Ambulance, Ald. Ramsey said it worked in partnership with the Ambulance Service NI to save lives.

“The costs surrounding the helicopter relies solely on the goodwill of the general public. This service needs a sustainable income to ensure the helicopter keeps flying and also that we have a back up helicopter as well,” he said.

“In 2018 the Air Ambulance Service has been deployed 21 times in our area, our city and district.

“We do support a range of community and not for profit organisations. Members will question if this sets a precedent, I would argue that the Air Ambulance should be supported by the government and not have to rely solely on charitable donations, like some other of our emergency services. This service should be the same as our police cars, ambulances and fire engines. Some may say this is a Stormont responsibility and as some may know, the N.I. Ambulance Service provides the medical crew, medicines and equipment which is provided by Stormont. Unfortunately, we now find ourselves in a political vacuum that Stormont has been off the scene for two years.”

He said the Air Ambulance costs £2m annually just to keep it in the air and each call out roughly costs £5k. “This is a huge amount of money to rely on public donations and I have no doubt thatif this service was to be lost we would be up in arms.

“I believe this council must consider, at the very least, an annual donation to this much needed emergency service.”

Sinn Fein Colr. Ruari McHugh also commended those who campaigned for and operate the Air Ambulance and said the late Martin McGuinness had ensured lands at the former Long Kesh site was set aside for use for the Air Ambulance, while Michelle O’Neill as Health Minister gave approval to the service for the doctor-led emergency service.

“There is no doubt this service has saved lives since it became operational just over a year and a half ago. The Air Ambulance is providing advanced critical care, benefiting those whose lives are at serious risk following significant injury or trauma by bringing urgent medical assistance directly to the patient at the scene.”

He said the council had a significant rural population and rural road infrastructure which made the air ambulance service all the more valuable.

“We recognise the funding challenge faced annually to keep this service in operation and we support the motion,” he said.

SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said his party was also supportive. “We don’t have an issue with the proposal. Let’s get a report brought back to the committee and as part of that report it might be useful to find out whether the other 10 local authorities contribute towards the Air Ambulance and if not why not because surely they should be doing it in the same way that our Council are considering it.”

UUP Alderman Derek Hussey said he welcomed the fact this was being looked at. “We also have to be careful that we are not allowing the Health Service to abrogate its responsibility for proper funding for what is a blue-light emergency service, but we support the motion,” he said.

The motion was passed unanimously.

The emergency helicopter service began operating on July 22, 2017 and its crew includes 15 doctors and seven paramedics. The air ambulance can reach any part of N. Ireland within 25 minutes.