New cross-border air ambulance planned

An Air Ambulance arrives on the roof of the Royal London Hospital.  Image courtesy of CHANNEL 5
An Air Ambulance arrives on the roof of the Royal London Hospital. Image courtesy of CHANNEL 5

The Minister of Health is working on securing a new cross-border air ambulance that would land at Altnagelvin.

The Minister, DUP MLA Edwin Poots, said having a new air ambulance that crossed into the Republic of Ireland would “help to reduce the cost burden.”

He spoke earlier this week after a meeting with his southern counterpart, James Reilly, on a number of cross-border health initiatives.

Mr Poots also pointed to a planned new ‘cath lab’ for diagnosing heart conditions at Altnagelvin Hospital as something that “increases the quality of the business case” for bringing an air ambulance to Northern Ireland.

The Sentinel revealed in April that GE Healthcare has been awarded a £450,000 contract for the provision of equipment for an Altnagelvin ‘cath lab’ for the treatment of heart patients.

Regarding the plans for a cross-border air ambulance, the Minister said: “Both Minister Reilly and I have a major desire to progress this and get to the point at which an air ambulance is available.”

The Minister spoke about other cross-border health programmes, including the plans for a new £50 million state-of-the-art radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin.

Mr Poots said that preparations for the unit are well underway, with a business case “nearing completion.”

He said that whilst a training scheme for radiotherapists will also need to be put in place before the unit can be opened, it remains on target to open in 2016.

He said: “Various pieces of work need to be carried out at the Altnagelvin site, including the removal and replacement of some existing buildings. That preparation work has to be done. The business case and memorandum of understanding are nearing completion, which will allow a lot of progress to be made. Obviously, a training programme will have to be put in place for radiotherapists to carry out that important work.

“The satellite facility that will be available at Altnagelvin hospital, which will cover Donegal as well, will be of significant benefit to people not just in the north-west of the Province but right across Northern Ireland. Anybody who knows people who visit the radiotherapy centre at the City Hospital will recognise that that service is very heavily used.

“Consequently, had we not taken the decision to open the facility in Altnagelvin, it would have led to a circumstance in which we would not have had the capacity in Belfast to deal with cancer.”