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Health Minister visits specialist transport & retrieval team NISTAR




Health Minister Robin Swann today visited the Northern Ireland Specialist Transport & Retrieval (NISTAR) service to see first-hand the vital work the team carry out.


NISTAR is a small and highly specialised team of doctors, nurses and support staff who facilitate the intensive care transfer of adults, paediatrics and neonatal around Northern Ireland.


The team and fleet are based in the Royal Victoria Hospital, and play a vital role in the regional response to Covid-19.


The Health Minister said: “I am very impressed by the work of NISTAR and the staff working here and the crucial service they are providing for patients especially during this pandemic. It has been due to the dedication of health and social care staff, as exemplified by this team, that both Covid and non-Covid patients have had access to the best possible care. I, and the people of Northern Ireland, owe all of you a huge debt of gratitude.”


Minister Swann paid tribute to the NISTAR team on the vital role it plays in partnership with the Critical Care Network to ensure the safe transfer of patients between units across Northern Ireland.



Throughout 2020, in addition to transferring critically ill Covid patients, the NISTAR team also facilitated increased numbers of paediatric cardiac surgery taking place in Dublin, building on existing all-island Network arrangements to ensure that babies and infants, who otherwise would have needed to travel to England for specialist surgery, were able to receive their treatment in Dublin and safely return to Belfast.


The Minister added: “I am immensely proud of all our health and social care staff. You responded selflessly and with conviction to the first Covid-19 wave. The period we are now facing is likely to be hugely challenging, but I have no doubt that you will again respond positively to the challenge.”


NISTAR has completed over 200 intensive care patients transfers, for patients who have had a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Covid-19 since March 2020.


This is the highest number of transfers completed by any specialist service across the UK. The NISTAR team completed all the Covid-19 transfers to / from the Nightingale hospital. All the transfers require the team to wear full PPE.


Patients are managed by specialist clinical teams experienced in transport and retrieval medicine. The service operates 24 hours per day, every day of the year.


Moira Kearney, Co-Director of Child Health Services and NISTAR at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said: “Belfast Trust is very proud of our successes working with NISTAR and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. We have four utterly dedicated teams providing a vital service for neonatal, pediatric and adult patients. We handle around 1,200 calls a year, with 70 nurses and 40 doctors running a fleet of specially adapted ambulances.


“In April, we completed our first ever simultaneous transfer of three Covid-19 patients and in October, NISTAR recorded their busiest ever day completing 18 transfers in total, 11 of which were for Covid positive patients being transferred from the Mater to the Nightingale hospital.”


The Northern Ireland Specialist Transport and Retrieval (NISTAR) service became operational in 2013 and was the successor to the Northern Ireland Critical Care Transport Service (NICCaTS) and Child Or Neonate Needing Emergency Critical Care Transport (CONNECCT) teams.


NISTAR provides critical care transport and repatriation for neonatal; paediatric and adult patients. From January 2020, NISTAR commenced a nurse led service to transport patients who do not require critical care intervention. Patients are managed by specialist clinical teams experienced in transport and retrieval medicine. The service operates 24 hours per day, every day of the year and completes approximately 1,200 critical care transfers annually.


NISTAR is engaged with and facilitates transfers for the following networks:


  • Neonatal Network Northern Ireland (NNNI)

  • Critical Care Network Northern Ireland (CCaNNI)

  • All Island Congenital Heart Network

  • Paediatric Collaborative


NISTAR is hosted by the Belfast Health and Social and Care Trust (BHSCT) and works in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) to provide a regional critical care transport service. All transfers are completed by land using a fleet of specially adapted ambulances.


NISTAR - Key facts


  • We facilitate approx. 1200 calls annually

  • We have 70 nurses working on the team

  • We have 40 doctors working on the team

  • We have 12 Ambulance Care attendants

  • We have 4 teams on duty daily

  • We have 3 ambulances

  • We have provided critical care transport for patients weighing 460g and aged 23 weeks gestation through to patients weighing 150Kg and aged 90

  • We have completed over 200 Covid 19 transfers to date

  • We completed all the Covid 19 transfers to the Nightingale hospital

  • On 3 April, we completed the simultaneous transfer of 3 Covid-19 patients. This was the first time in NISTAR’s history that critical care transfers were completed simultaneously. We repeated this process twice.

  • On 13 Oct, NISTAR recorded their busiest ever day completing 18 transfers in total, 11 of which were for Covid +ve patients being transferred from the Mater to the Nightingale hospital