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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 19 September, 2018
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Nighttime air ambulance service will cost €7 million over two years

Three companies applied to provide the service in a recent tendering process.

shutterstock_554473381 File photo of the interior of a rescue helicopter Source: Shutterstock/VanderWolf Images

THE TWO-YEAR CONTRACT to provide a nighttime air ambulance service between Ireland and the UK will cost in the region of €7 million.

Air Alliance, which has bases in the UK and Germany, has been awarded the contract. It was one of three companies to apply through a recent Health Service Executive (HSE) tendering process.

Most of the patients expected to use this service will be children who need to go to the UK for organ transplants. In general, about five such cases happen per year.

The contract was due to be awarded in January but the process was only concluded in recent weeks. The HSE did not explain why there was a delay, when asked.

Since 6 November 2017, the Air Corps or the Irish Coast Guard have not been available to provide transfers for patients who require emergency medical or surgical treatment between the hours of 7pm and 7.30am (due to staff capacity constraints).

Capital Air Ambulance had been providing an interim nighttime service but lost out on winning the contract.

Documents released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show that three companies applied to be awarded the contract:

  • Air Alliance Express
  • Capital Air Ambulance
  • Woodgate Aviation

award 2 Award criteria Source: HSE

scores Summary award evaluation outcome Source: HSE

COST AA PER YEAR Cost of new service per month and per year Source: HSE

The HSE and the National Ambulance Service (NAS) worked with Rose Aviation Ltd, which it described as “third-party experts”, to choose the preferred company.

Woodgate Aviation was the first company to be cut as it “did not meet the minimum requirements for providing the service”.

The documents note that Capital Air Ambulance was providing the interim service based at Dublin Airport and “as such has some experience of the operation”.

“It is further noteworthy that there has been no callout in this period so this experience is minimal.” This interim service was due to conclude at the end of February but was extended until the end of March.

In an email sent from Capital Air to the HSE, the company said it was extending the service on a “goodwill basis” while it awaited the outcome of the tendering process.

Optional costs

The documents note that the aircraft used as the air ambulance “may also be required from time to time, on a similar emergency basis, to transport organ retrieval teams from one hospital to another”, and as such additional costs may be incurred.

“The service is required from 1st March 2018 (or as soon as possible thereafter) for a period of 24 months. It is likely the tender awarded will have an option to extend for a further 24 months at the discretion of the HSE,” the documents state.

add costs Optional costs Source: HSE

opt costs Optional costs Source: HSE

Turbulence 

The Contract Approval Request Form discusses the type of aircraft the bidders would opt to use. It notes that Air Alliance would operate a Learjet 35A in a multi-pilot operation.

“This will be based upon a 6 hr 15 min per crew per night operation whereby the crew will be based with an FBO (fixed-base operator) on airport standby.

“A second crew will then cover the remaining 6 hr 15 min. This will be on a 6 on 3 off roster with the pilots rotated through both the UK and Germany to satisfy flying currency requirements,” the form notes.

It states that Capital Air Ambulance, should it be awarded the service, planned to use a Beechcraft Kingair B200.

When comparing the two aircraft, the document notes: “The speed of transit for both types was identified by each provider with the Lear 35A transiting from Dublin to London in 1hr while the B200 would take 1.25hr.

“This is significant in the 4 hour window that the HSE had identified as part of the tender. The cruise altitude of both types is also a matter of concern.

“A Lear 35A will usually cruise at 40,000ft which is well above any cloud formation. A B200, as identified by the Chief Pilot from Capital Air Ambulance, will cruise from 19,000 – 22,000ft, this is often below the level of cloud tops.

In this case, turbulence will be a factor for crews and patients.

Based on these factors, Rose Aviation recommended that a Learjet 35A is “better suited to carry out this contract”.

Once all aspects of the tender proposals had been evaluated, Rose Aviation said it considered Air Alliance Medflight “to be the preferred provider for this operation”.

A spokesperson for the HSE told TheJournal.ie the contract was awarded “on the basis of the most economically advantageous with quality of service as a core criteria”.

“The tendering process is complete and the contract is currently being finalised with the preferred bidder,” they added.

The Air Corps and the Coast Guard continue to provide daytime cover for emergency air ambulance services.

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Órla Ryan

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