A year after first taking to the skies, the doctors, paramedics, pilots and support staff marked the first anniversary of the Air Ambulance’s inaugural rescue mission on July 22 and a positive first year in operation.
The charity, Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI), in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), provides the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) for the region and responds to seriously ill or injured patients, seven days a week, for 12 hours a day.
The only service of its kind in Northern Ireland has seen the doctor/paramedic team on the air ambulance work cohesively and successfully with the NIAS land crews and other emergency services to deliver advanced treatment and optimum care for patients.
From July 2017 until June 22 this year, the air ambulance had been tasked to 380 emergency missions across Northern Ireland, providing critical advanced care to patients, with 50 per cent of taskings being for road traffic collisions.
Tom Hadden from Eglish was treated by the air ambulance last year and is now nine months into rehabilitation after a serious road traffic collision in November 2017. Speaking about his experience Tom said: “It’s been a long and on-going road to recovery. I owe great thanks to the Air Ambulance team as without the initial intervention it could have been a very different ending for me. I would also like to acknowledge the work of all the medical staff and teams in my recovery.”
He continued: “About six months after the accident, my family and I organised a fundraiser as a gesture of thanks to the Air Ambulance and we raised £7,000. We were thrilled to see how the community came together to join us at our coffee morning, recognising the importance of this vital service.”
From its base near Lisburn, the air ambulance can reach any part of Northern Ireland in approximately 25 minutes. Its primary role is to deliver 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.
Clinical lead Dr Darren Monaghan said: “HEMS working alongside our road crew colleagues is able to attend patients critically injured as a result of major trauma, for example road traffic collisions, falls from heights, or serious agricultural injuries.
“Trauma unfortunately is the number one killer of people under 40 years of age and for every death there are at least two survivors with serious permanent disability.
“During the first year, our HEMS team have been able to reach hundreds of patients be it at the road side, farmyard or even the city centre providing clinical interventions and life-saving medical treatment at the scene and in the air.
“We know that patients are alive today due to the care we provide in conjunction with the whole health service. We would like to say a huge thank you to the population of Northern Ireland for their support and donations which allow this lifesaving service to continue.
“Over the course of our first year, we’ve also been able to welcome many of those who we have helped to our base to meet the team. For many this has been an important part of their recovery and this is something we plan to continue as we enter year two, so we would encourage any previous patients to get in touch to arrange a visit.”
Two of those who have visited the base are John McMullan, along with his son Conor, 12, who was the first patient to benefit from the air ambulance service on July 22, 2017.
John reflects on the incident: “We are one year on from a day that could have had a very different outcome had it not been for a service that I, like many others at the time, had no knowledge of and to which I can now say with confidence played a critical role in saving the life of my eldest son Conor.
“Our family and the surrounding community have been left with a shocking reality of how critical this service is to our rural area and to the future wellbeing of our families and we need to do all that we can to ensure it remains.”
The charity is using the anniversary to highlight how it requires £5,500 per day to keep this vital service going, meaning £2 million must be raised each year.
Kerry Anderson, Head of Fundraising for Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, explained: “We have come such a long way over the past year and are extremely grateful for the generosity and support of the people of Northern Ireland to date.
“Without this ongoing support and without much needed donations, we will be grounded and the service will not be able to operate.
“The service might just one day save your life or the lives of your loved ones and there are plenty of ways for people or businesses to get involved.
“This includes an opportunity for people to join our members club, Club AANI, for a weekly donation of just £2. It is a really easy way for people to donate and we hope that those who can will do so as every little bit really does go a long way to keep us in the air.”
The charity is also gearing up for Air Ambulance Month in September, a national campaign which aims to recognise the work of air ambulances across the UK.
The team at Air Ambulance Northern Ireland will be organising a series of fundraising events in major towns and cities across the region requiring volunteer support and briefings for local businesses who might like to support the charity and an abseil at Belfast Castle on September 9.