Two years after an air ambulance pilot scheme was launched in Ireland a decision on the future of the service has yet to be finalised.
The Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS), operated by the Air Corps in support of the HSE’s National Ambulance Service (NAS), was launched on June 4th 2012 and was due to run on a trial basis for one year.
The service was extended twice however, for three months at a time, while a review of the operation was carried out by the Emergency Aeromedical Service Audit and Evaluation Group.
That review group confirmed the need for a permanent a service in Ireland and this has been accepted by the Minister for Health Dr James Reilly.
The service was again extended while the Minister established an inter-service working group to examine options for the permanent establishment of an EAS service and the potential for expansion of service coverage, including an all-Ireland approach.
The group, which has met five times to date, comprises representatives of the Departments of Health, Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform, the HSE, Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) and the Northern Ireland health and ambulance services.
The group is now preparing a report for the Minister for Health while in the meantime, the air ambulance service has been extended by a fifth three month period to facilitate this.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The inter-departmental working group has examined options for aerial support to the EAS and is now preparing a report for the Minister for Health.
The inter-service working group has met on five occasions to date and its work is continuing. The Department of Defence has agreed for the extension of the Air Corps support of the service until 3rd September 2014 to allow the group to complete its work,” the Department confirmed.
All calls for the air ambulance (Medevac 112) are handled at the 24-hour National Aeromedical Co-ordination Centre (NACC) at Tullamore in Co Offaly while the helicopter and crews are based at Custume Barracks in Athlone.
Figures provided by the Department of Health also show that the up to the end of May, the Air Corps had completed 652 EAS missions on behalf of the HSE.
The Irish Coast Guard (IrCG) has also carried out in excess of 120 missions for the EAS because they were better placed to respond to the incident.