No more funding for air ambulance

No more funding for air ambulance

5 June 2019

HEALTH chiefs have dismissed an appeal by Newry, Mourne and Down Council to provide  additional funding for the province’s air ambulance service.

The appeal was made in March following a proposal by Rowallane councillor Billy Walker, which was unanimously endorsed by all the local authority’s 41 members.

In addition to asking the Department of Health — which already allocates £1m in annual funding — to provide additional cash, the council appealed to Northern Ireland’s other 10 councils to put their hands in their pockets.

With £2m annual running costs, Cllr Walker wanted the government department to do more to ensure the lifesaving frontline helicopter emergency service remained in the air, continuing to meet the needs of local people in particular.

In the first 10 months of last year, the air ambulance was deployed 54 times in the Newry Mourne and Down area, with Cllr Walker revealing that between August 2017 and November last year, the air ambulance responded to 101 incidents across the council area.

He argued that while the Department of Health funds the air ambulance crew, medicines and medical equipment, it should be picking the remainder of the service’s running costs, with his colleagues agreeing to write to Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly, demanding that there is government support for the service, in particular, aviation costs.

However, Mr Pengelly has confirmed that this will not be happening.

In a letter to the council read at Monday night’s meeting, the province’s most senior health chief said he shared the council’s support for the valuable service, particularly in the Newry, Mourne and Down area and the significant fundraising efforts of the public and organisations to maintain its operation.

Mr Pengelly said the government department’s £1m annual allocation funded the medical aspects of the service with charity funds, including public donations, sustaining the aviation side.

He said this partnership model successfully operated in a number of air ambulance services across the UK, with evidence indicating that it can be “highly effective” in attracting funds to support the service’s non-medical costs.

Mr Pengelly’s letter continues: “As part of the ongoing consultation on reshaping stroke services, the Department has made a commitment to extend the partnership with Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) to enable the helicopter emergency medical service to provide a secondary response to incidents, including strokes, by 2022.

“Any changes to the existing arrangement would be subject to the completion of an appropriate business case and agreement with AANI with regard to any funding implications.”

Mr Pengelly said as the government department had already committed to a partnership funding relationship with Air Ambulance NI, he did not think that consideration of further funding for aviation costs was appropriate at this time.