Doctor John’s dream set to become reality

Story By: Ulster Gazette

First Minister, Arlene Foster and Health Minister, Simon Hamilton are pictured with Dr Janet Acheson at the announcement of a new Helicopter Emergency Medical Service

THE partner of Tandragee ‘flying doctor’ John Hinds has welcomed the fact his dream of securing Northern Ireland’s first air ambulance is now a step closer to reality.

Dr Janet Acheson was speaking as Health Minister Simon Hamilton MLA, yesterday (Monday) moved the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) and the major trauma network a step closer to implementation.

Ironically the announcement on the way forward came on the same day, Dr Hinds – who was tragically killed as he provided medical cover at the Skerries 100 road race – should have been celebrating his 36th birthday.

Unsurprisingly, it was therefore “a day of mixed emotions for all of the Hinds and Acheson families”, as his devoted partner admitted.

“Today as a family we should have been celebrating John’s 36th birthday,” Dr Acheson said.

“Last year, for his birthday, John’s mum Josephine gave him a model London HEMS helicopter because he had a dream of a world-leading, trauma network with a doctor led HEMS at its core. That is now a huge step closer to reality.

“This is the start – this is where the work begins. Hopefully it will not take too long to literally ‘lift off’, but it is better to get it right than rush into a second class service. It takes time to build the right team and the right structure.

“John believed in high performance. We are honoured to be a part of this announcement today, thank-you.”

The Health Minister also announced the key findings of the HEMS consultation, which included the management and funding models, home base location, target patient groups and collaboration with other services, during his visit to Craigavon Area Hospital.

Just weeks before his untimely death, which occurred in July last year, Dr Hinds – an intensive care consultant and anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital – had discussed the need for a dedicated air ambulance with Mr Hamilton.

“John Hinds and I shared the same vision of a world class pre-hospital emergency service,” the Health Minister said, “and it is fitting that today we are here in his hospital base on what would have been his birthday, with his partner, Dr Janet Acheson, his family and many of his work colleagues to announce that we are making his dream a reality.”

Mr Hamilton revealed a service specification will now be developed for a daylight hours Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, which is physician led, but also supported by paramedics.

“It will provide a primary response role initially for major trauma incidents and develop into a secondary response role helping, for example, heart attack and stroke patients, at an appropriate time in the future.

“This will be implemented by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service as the Trust with lead responsibility for delivering the service, who will work closely with the five other Health and Social Care Trusts.

“We will shortly begin the process of procurement and recruitment and sorting out staff rotas, and begin investing in enabling capital works on the helipad at the Major Trauma Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“The Major Trauma Network and the HEMS will operate in a joined-up way,” the Minister explained.

“For this reason, Belfast International Airport offers the greatest potential benefit as the main base for the HEMS, both practically in terms of existing infrastructure, and geographically in terms of its proximity to the greatest number of potential HEMS missions, the Major Trauma Centre, the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service, and a pool of physicians and paramedics from across the region who will staff HEMS rotas.”

Highlighting the future funding model for the continuation of the service, the Minister said whilst the Department of Health will be responsible for providing sufficient funds to ensure the continuity of the service in the long term, he is keen to explore the possibility of supporting the service through charitable funds.

“Through our consultation, the registered charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland has come forward with proposals of how they would build a robust funding base in the local community.

“Indeed, best practice from other UK HEMS services indicates that this model can be highly successful in attracting funds to support the non-medical costs, and I think we can aspire towards this and I applaud the Trustees for their efforts to secure the £4.5 million funds from the Chancellor.

“I am pleased to confirm recurrent funding of £250,000 for the Major Trauma Network and a further £250,000 from my Transformation Fund in 2016/17 to facilitate the necessary planning, preparation, recruitment and training to get us to a state of readiness for the HEMS to be put into operation.”

According to the Minister, the Trauma Network board has also met and begun preparatory work, including recruitment of trauma clinical leads that should be in position by August 2016.

Confirmation of Northern Ireland’s first emergency helicopter follows a lengthy campaign locally for such a facility.

Following Dr Hinds’ tragic death, more than 70,000 people signed a petition organised by the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service for Northern Ireland (HEMS4NI) and it was presented to Stormont.

Up until now, Northern Ireland had been the only region of the UK which does not currently have such an emergency service at its disposal.

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