The final phase of a fully operational Helicopter Emergency Medical Service for Northern Ireland has been completed with the opening of the Helipad at the Royal Victoria Hospital. The first test landed at 08:30 on Tuesday 18 February.

Following a short period of testing and crew familiarisation throughout the week, patients will be taken, by the HEMS, directly to the Helipad on the Critical Care Building on the RVH site. Patients are currently taken to the helicopter landing site at Musgrave Park Hospital before being transferred to RVH by ambulance.

The direct landing site will reduce patient travelling time by approximately 25 minutes. Once the patient is ready to be transferred from the air ambulance, he/she can be in the Emergency Department in just over two minutes.

The HEMS service, since its inception in 2017, has attended more than 1300 calls and is delivered in partnership by Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the charity, Air Ambulance Northern Ireland.

Health Minister, Robin Swann, recognising the significance of this day, said;

“This is a momentous day for patients in Northern Ireland and it has been a privilege to witness the first test flight landing of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) this morning. HEMS greatly benefits people with life-changing injuries, whose lives are at risk following significant trauma, by bringing skilled clinicians to the scene to deliver advanced critical care and rapidly transporting the patient to the regional trauma centre for ongoing emergency care.

“My Department continues to provide significant recurrent funding of approximately £1 million each year to enable the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to cover the medical aspects of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, including staff, training and equipment. And I am committed to the partnership-funding relationship with Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, who raise charity funds, including public donations, to sustain the aviation side.”

NIAS Chief Executive, Michael Bloomfield, welcomed the opening of the helipad saying;

“The commissioning of the new helipad represents another step forward in trauma care for the population of Northern Ireland. The HEMS service has undertaken over 1300 calls over the past two and a half years, with many seriously injured patients receiving advanced on-scene care from our medical team before being transferred directly to Belfast for specialist treatment. By landing on this pad we will be able to further reduce the journey time for these patents by around 25 minutes by avoiding the need for a secondary transfer by road ambulance.

I commend the work of all involved in this project which will, undoubtedly save lives.”

Dr Cathy Jack, Chief Executive of Belfast Trust, highlighted the benefit to patients of a fully operational helipad close to the Emergency Department:

“We are absolutely delighted that air ambulance test flights have now begun at the Royal Victoria Hospital and once the helipad is fully operational it will help ensure we can work faster to save lives.

Air Ambulance NI and Northern Ireland Ambulance Service play a key role in the treatment of critically ill patients. Every minute saved in the transfer of a patient maximises their chance of a successful recovery and having a helipad close to the Emergency Department (ED) at the Royal Victoria Hospital – where we have skilled teams ready to receive them – means the outcomes for these patients improves.

This partnership working has really made a difference for these trauma patients most in need and bringing the helicopter closer to the regional trauma centre optimises this even further.”

Ray Foran, Chairperson of Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, speaking on behalf of the charity responsible for fund raising the £2million required annually to sustain the service, also welcomed this latest phase in the air ambulance journey saying;

“We are delighted to have achieved this milestone and acknowledge the success of partnership working and thanks to all involved. Air Ambulance patients are brought to the most relevant hospital for their injuries and for many this is the Royal Victoria Hospital as the main trauma centre for the region. Time is of critical importance for any trauma patient therefore accessing the Royal via the helipad is very much welcomed.”


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