A new air ambulance base is to be located at Custume Barracks, Athlone.
While the Government would only confirm this week that discussions on the initiative were “at an advanced stage”, Deputy Denis Naughten confirmed that the Emergency Medical Service would be based at the Athlone barracks from May this year.
The service will allow the swift transport of critically ill patients to the appropriate hospital to treat their injuries.
A spokesperson for the HSE said that “discussions are at an advanced stage and ongoing with regard to the Air Ambulance Service”.
Meanwhile the Department of Health confirmed that lengthy discussions had taken place between the Departments of Health and Defence, and that “talks are ongoing and are at an advanced stage”.
Deputy Naughten, who has been campaigning for the service for almost 13 years, is delighted at the announcement.
“This is a major step forward in establishing a national helicopter emergency service which could transport patients from the scene of an accident to a major trauma centre,” said Deputy Naughten.
“While this service is the first of its kind in the country and will provide reassurance to many people throughout the Midlands, there are still many steps to be taken to provide a service similar to what is in place throughout Europe. Having said that, as someone who has campaigned my entire political career for a dedicated air ambulance service, this is a significant step forward.
“In fact it is coming up on the 13th anniversary since I first raised such a proposal with the then Health Minister, Brian Cowen. I have campaigned for this service not only because it would clearly save lives but also because it would help to provide a valuable back-up to smaller A&E departments which could then introduce a stabilise and transfer protocol for all patients which would meet the best possible international standards.”
However he pointed out that the new service would “not be a replacement for other ambulance services or the downgrading of services at other hospitals - in fact the opposite”.
“It should be noted that the helicopter ambulance service will cater for a very small proportion of very ill patients, where travelling time to a regional trauma centre is the difference between life and death.”
He added that the announcement should be used as a “stepping stone to improve emergency services in the Midlands and west...by using this service to look again at how local hospitals can support emergency care, instead of using it as a justification to remove vital health services”.