The first test landing of the air ambulance on the helipad at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital has taken place on what the Health Minister branded a “momentous day”.
Getting the landing site up and running marks the final phase of creating a fully operational Helicopter Emergency Medical Service for Northern Ireland.
It will cut travel time for patients by around 25 minutes, as previously they had to be flown to either Musgrave Park Hospital or Belfast City Airport to land and then be taken to the RVH by ambulance.
“It’s a game-changer,” Glenn O’Rorke, Operational Lead for the NI Air Ambulance, told UTV.
“It’s hard to define who saves lives when it’s part of a network, part of a chain of survival. But certainly getting to surgery as soon as they can is a big part of that.”
A number of test flights will now be carried out before the helipad fully comes into use.
Cathy Jack, Chief Executive of the Belfast Trust, said she was confident that all the preparatory work at the RVH would have paid off.
She added: “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 at the Royal Victoria Hospital – where we have skilled teams ready to receive them – means the outcomes for these patients improve.”
The Department of Health provides funding of £1m annually to cover the medical aspects, while the Air Ambulance charity matches and even extends that commitment to sustain the aviation side.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “This is a momentous day for patients in Northern Ireland.
“It has been a privilege to witness the first test flight landing of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service 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.”
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