For the past 5 years, Northern Ireland has had a dedicated Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS), looking after the people of Northern Ireland, operating for 12 hours daily, 365 days of the year.  The service, which celebrates its anniversary on today, is operated by a partnership between the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the charity, Air Ambulance Northern Ireland.

In that period, the HEMS has been called upon on over 3,000 occasions to critically ill and injured patients of every age and background.  Many remember the high profile first call out to a young 11-year-old, now 16, Conor McMullan.  Conor had suffered a serious head fracture following an accident on the family farm but made a full recovery following initial treatment from the HEMS and his onward care in hospital. On a recent visit to the base, Conor expressed his gratitude for the actions of the crew on that day, saying, “I am glad the air ambulance was there for me that day. I will always be grateful”

Dr. Nigel Ruddell, NIAS Medical Director, reflecting on the first 5 years of the service said,

“The HEMS service has now reached a historic milestone of 5 years of operations. In those five years the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the Air Ambulance Northern Ireland Charity have worked together to ensure that, on over 3000 occasions, patients have benefitted from the highest levels of clinical care provided by the doctor and paramedic team. Every call is received in ambulance control with NIAS Paramedics dispatched to the scene but, on an average of twice a day, the charity air ambulance is tasked to the incident in support of their road ambulance colleagues. This collaboration and expertise is what brings reassurance to the patients and all involved in the incident and has also, undoubtedly, saved many lives over the past five years.

Today provides me with an opportunity to thank all those involved in the delivery of the service, including NIAS Control staff, NIAS operational Staff, the medics in the HEMS team and the pilot, without whose expertise many of these calls could not be reached. I also want, on behalf of NIAS, to thank the team at AANI, the Trustees and Executive team for their drive and determination to make the HEMS service a reality, their administrators and volunteers and fund raising teams for the huge efforts they make to ensure that the service continues for the benefit of those who need this life-saving service.

Five years has passed quickly, and I look forward with anticipation to see how the service develops in the next five years and beyond.”

Glenn O’Rorke, NIAS Operational Lead for HEMS added,

“With over 3,000 missions completed, it is clear that this is a vital service for our community. The call out rate varies from day to day but on average our team are called upon twice daily.  We never

forget that behind each of these missions is a person who is having their worst day.  We attend to the sickest people in the province and feel privileged to be able to do this job and be part of the chain of survival.  Each day is different, whether that will be a patient critically ill following a road traffic collision, a crushing from cattle accident, a fall from a bicycle, workplace machinery accident or severe limb injuries on the sports field, to name a few.”

All clinical governance aspects of the HEMS are governed by NIAS including provision of the clinicians, medical supplies, equipment and drugs as well as the rapid response vehicle which is used to respond to 25% of calls. 

Of the 3,080 missions, almost a quarter are to serious road traffic collisions and a further 22% are to medical emergencies. Falls account for 19% of calls with agricultural accidents and workplace incidents being the reason for a further 10% of call outs.  Sport and leisure amounts to 8% with the same percentage of call outs to assault and stabbings. Deliberate self-harm makes up 4% of missions with drowning and burns accounting for a further 3% and the final 2% classed as other.

The charity, Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, is responsible for charity governance and helicopter operations and currently has two aircraft based at the airbase just outside of Lisburn.   

Dr Gerard O’Hare, Chair of the charity said,

“Air Ambulance NI is important to people in our community for different reasons and it is there for each and every one of us.  The HEMS team are dedicated to saving lives, brains and limbs, though they are not the only life savers.  During this anniversary we want to applaud every supporter, volunteer and donor who has contributed to ensuring the service is here 5 years on.  In addition to the clinical provision provided by NIAS, it takes £2m each year in fundraising to sustain the HEMS, and costs are rising.  Yet with the continued support of the public we can be there for the next 5 years, and beyond, to help save lives in Northern Ireland.”

The charity is encouraging donations to be made in support of the service at

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