The death of Dr John Hinds in a motorcycle accident was a tragedy for his family, the motorcycling fraternity and indeed the wider community through the loss of a talented medical practitioner.
His passing has led to renewed calls for the introduction of an air ambulance to Northern Ireland, a cause he had championed for some time.
It is a cause which in the right circumstances will provide additional benefit to the delivery of pre-hospital emergency care in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately at this time those circumstances do not yet exist.
Amongst the circumstances required is the need for a sustainable ambulance service capable of meeting the existing requirements in terms of service delivery. The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service requires additional funding and resources in order to meet these requirements.
In a response to Kathleen Torney of The Detail published on 26 June 2014 NIAS Chief Executive Liam McIvor highlighted some of the difficulties facing the service.
“We continue to highlight the financial constraints within which we operate – we spend less than ten pence per person per day on our ambulance service in Northern Ireland. Investment in ambulance services in N Ireland is less than £35 per person, which is one of the lowest in the UK.
While this clearly does not reflect the value which the Northern Ireland community place on their ambulance service, it is one indication of the priority placed on our collective health and well-being.
As we move deeper into a difficult financial environment, we will have even more cause to consider the value we place on our ambulance service and the investment we wish to make in pre-hospital care.
The speed of response is a key measure of performance for any organisation, particularly so for an emergency ambulance service and we acknowledge our inability to maintain the performance achieved in 2011/12. We are getting to more patients more quickly than ever before, but increasing demand for emergency response has impacted heavily on our capacity to respond promptly.”
Investing in the services detailed above will enhance the survival and recovery of patients and allow a real assessment of the value of aeromedical support on a full time basis.
Of course the purpose of using an air ambulance is to ensure access to treatment quicker, from the qualification of the medical staff on board, the limitations of what they can do through emergency care and the delivery of the patient to a facility geared to the immediate treatment of the casualty.
This will require the radical reform of acute services across Northern Ireland at least in line with the Donaldson report to ensure that the system is best able to maximise the benefits of the introduction of an air ambulance.
The decision of the Irish Government to introduce a permanent air ambulance service creates a strategic opportunity to deliver such a service on an all island basis. Clearly geography dictates that Donegal will be closer to any air ambulance based in Northern Ireland and probably closer to an acute hospital in Northern Ireland capable of treating the patient. Flexibility will enhance service delivery north and south.
The challenge for politicians now is not just to sign a petition, or promote the cause but rather to champion the enhanced role of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the reform of the acute sector which will create the circumstances whereby an air ambulance can truly make a difference.