Press Release

Feasibility Study on a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS)

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Micheál Martin, TD, and the Minister with responsibility for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, (Belfast) Ms Angela Smith, MP today, (30th April, 2004), announced the publication of a Feasibility Study on a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) for the island of Ireland.

The decision to commission the study followed a recommendation by a Cross Border Working Group on Pre-Hospital Emergency Care, one of a number of Groups established under the North South Ministerial Council to examine areas of North South co-operation in the Health field.

The consultancy firm, Booz, Allen and Hamilton, conducted the study which identifies possible roles for a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS):

  • “Primary Response” – travelling directly to the scene of an incident to take the patient to hospital
  • “Inter-hospital Response” – the planned, rapid transfer between hospitals of patients requiring specialist care, escorted by skilled professionals
  • The study concludes that an inter-hospital transfer service would be the most appropriate in an all-island context. The study indicates that this would involve significant capital investment and annual operating costs. The estimated cost is EUR12m capital and EUR4m annual operating costs for a single helicopter. Additional helicopters could be added with an additional annual cost for each aircraft of over EUR3m.

    A 3 year programme of work would be needed to establish HEMS including procurement of aircraft; identifying and constructing landing sites; developing cross-border communications and control systems; producing service protocols and cross-border management agreements (including funding and payment); staff recruitment and training; arrangements for integration with existing hospital and ambulance services.

    Commenting on the report, Minister Martin said

    “I welcome this detailed examination of the feasibility of introducing a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS). It is an important contribution to the debate on the future organisation of emergency medical services in both the hospital and pre-hospital settings.

    The re-configuration of acute hospital services along the lines proposed by the National Task Force on Medical Staffing (The Hanly Report) underlines the importance of having a well organized ambulance service capable of responding rapidly to the needs of emergency patients. While the study shows that a HEMS would have a part to play in providing improved response times, it is not a substitute for the emergency ambulance service.”

    The Minister continued:

    “The development of the emergency ambulance services is being pursued through the continued implementation of the Strategic Review of the Ambulance Service, 2001. This recommended additional investment of EUR26m up to 2006 in the ambulance service and I will continue to pursue this as a priority”.

    The Minister said that his Department is exploring the options in relation to HEMS development in the light of the study. As part of its consideration, consultations are taking place with the Department of Defence and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Irish Coast Guard).

    Copies of the HEMS Feasibility Study are available on the Department’s website.

    Minister Smith’s comments are available on the website of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Belfast)