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Air Ambulance Week highlights fact that Every Second Counts

From L to R: Paramedic Jason Rosborough, Pilot Colm Martyn and Doctor Andrew Dobbin.

Air Ambulance Northern Ireland will be highlighting National Air Ambulance Week (7 - 13 September) and the fact that ‘every second counts’ when a life is in the balance.

The charity Air Ambulance NI, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, provides the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) for Northern Ireland.

Clinical Lead for the HEMS, Dr Darren Monaghan said, “When a life is in the balance, every second counts.  When a call comes in we are airborne in approximately 5 minutes.  On board the helicopter is a consultant doctor and HEMS paramedic and together they provide hospital level emergency care at the roadside.  We are very much part of a wider care team, the first response in the trauma network which can make the difference for a seriously ill or dying patient.  After our initial interventions are provided, about 65% of our patients are then transferred to the major trauma centre, the Royal Victoria Hospital.”

Ellie McDonnell was one patient whose family was told by the medical team at the Royal Victoria Hospital that she would not have survived a further 5 minutes.  Ellie had an accident on the family farm and the HEMS team were able to induce a coma at the scene in Portaferry to help save her life.  Ellie continues her recovery with more surgery ahead.

Former patient, Ellie McDonnell

When an accident occurs, the importance of quick intervention starts.  The 999-call is connected to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service control room team who answer approximately 600 calls per day.  Alongside this key ambulance service team is one of the HEMS paramedics.  They decide whether the air ambulance team should be dispatched, dependent on the clinical nature of a patient’s injuries. The decision can be made using agreed automated dispatch criteria or by interrogation – which means the paramedic will speak with the 999 callers to assess further information. 

Once the very quick decision is made that the incident needs the air ambulance team, the paramedic has radio contact to declare this as a ‘HEMS call’. 

At that point the air ambulance operational crew will get ready for dispatch, using latitudes and longitudes to determine patient location, packing up their medical kit bags, helmets on, helicopter started and necessary safety checks underway before take-off.  Every second counts to ensure speedy lift off to reach the patient in optimum time.

The helicopter travels at approximately 150mph which means the team arrive with the patient in a matter of minutes – even the furthest locations can be reached in approximately 25 minutes. Once the team have safely landed, they can provide critical care interventions that otherwise would be done when the patient reaches hospital.  These include advanced analgesia, definitive airway management, chest interventions to support breathing and being able to induce a coma.  

Dr Monaghan added, “Our team are continually working to optimise every second for our patients - daily training for excellent care at scene, standardised medical kit bags for instant access to medical equipment and drugs and a mental state of readiness for that incoming call.  We continually strive for gains, however marginal, in everything we do.”

Kerry Anderson, Head of Fundraising with Air Ambulance NI said, “Usually during air ambulance week we have street collections and fundraising events, however in light of covid-19 they are not happening. Yet, £5,500 is still needed every day to continue reaching patients. 

“Every second counts for our patients, and every donation also counts. We’ve set up a virtual bucket collection at:


Please donate what you can. 

“Alternatively, there is also the opportunity for people to join the charity by becoming a member of Club AANI. Regular donations help to sustain the service and enable us to plan for the future. For a weekly donation of just £2, Club AANI members will receive exclusive benefits such as a gold pin badge, a car sticker and an invitation to our annual members event at our base. It’s a simple way to donate and we hope those who can join will do so.”