Officially launching Critical, the emergency medical response charity are Dr Lisa Cunningham, Board Member; Micheál Sheridan, CEO and Dr Jason Horan, Volunteer Emergency Medical Responder. Photo: Michael McLaughlin

Air ambulance care is critical

Something pretty significant happened recently.

One of our most important charitable organisations is changing focus entirely.

The Irish Community Air Ambulance which is based in Cork, has announced that it is changing its name to Critical, and will no longer provide its helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS). Instead it will focus on expanding its network of volunteer emergency medical responders into more communities across the country.

Critical will be an emergency medical response charity, and will continue to provide the HEMS air ambulance until 28 February when a new state-funded HEMS service based in the south west will take over. So essentially, the state will take over what it should have always been doing. With a poor road network which means people who suffer relatively treatable accidents in rural areas can be at serious risk of death, an air ambulance service is a must. To get to CUH by road could take over 2 and a half hours for someone in West Cork.

When there are few ambulances in service, there could be a huge, critical delay if you have to wait for a regular ambulance to get to hospital. The Irish Community Air Ambulance was established in 2009 as Irish Community Rapid Response, and in 2019 it successfully launched Ireland’s first and only charity air ambulance. Since then, it has been involved in more than 1,500 serious incidents and emergencies, showing how important and necessary it has been.

Micheál Sheridan, CEO of Critical said: “The Irish Community Air Ambulance was established by our charity in 2019 in response to what we knew was a need for a HEMS service in the south west of Ireland. We have consistently shown how vital the service is, so much so that it is now set to be fully funded by the state. We would like to thank all of those who helped keep HeliMed92 flying for the past three years and the HSE for its support over the last 10 months. We will now focus our efforts on our ground based volunteer emergency medical response initiative and bring critical and advanced levels of care to more communities across Ireland, both rural and urban.”

Now they will work with the National Ambulance Service to support the provision of pre-hospital emergency care to critically ill and injured patients in their local communities.

The charity has a fleet of rapid response vehicles which have facilitated critical care doctors and experienced GPs to respond to more than 1,800 incidents since 2020 alone.

With Ireland’s health and ambulance service under pressure, this emergency medical response does indeed sound critical. How long before that is fully recognised and state-funded too? For many years, the Air Ambulance seemed to exist on a hand to mouth existence, relying on hundreds of volunteers to fund-raise to keep the ambulance in the air.

In what other ways is the state failing to provide us with critical services?