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Chopped: GAA pitch will no longer be used as helicopter pad for Cork hospital

With no helipad at the only level-one trauma centre in the country, helicopters have been forced to land on sports pitches near to Cork University Hospital.

Image: Screengrab via Darren O'Keeffe/YouTube

AN ARRANGEMENT WHERE helicopters transferring critically ill and injured patients are forced to land on a sports pitch near Cork University Hospital (CUH), the country’s only level-one trauma centre, will end in the next few weeks, the HSE has said.

But CUH remains without a permanent helipad – which will eventually cost some €2 million to build -and helicopters will have to land on a purpose-built helipad on the grounds of a rugby club adjacent to the hospital.

An interim arrangement has been in place for a number of months for patients being brought by Irish Coastguard and Irish Air Corp helicopters to land on the fields of Bishopstown GAA and Highfield Rugby clubs, before being transferred by ambulance to the adjacent hospital.

For over a decade, CUH’s emergency facility has not had a helipad following the construction of a new emergency department building on the site of the former helipad.

This has meant that helicopters have being landing at Cork Airport, eight kilometres away from the facility but the recent death of 7-year-old James Casey-Butler brought the spotlight on the issue.

Bishopstown GAA Club is next to Cork University Hospital. Click here if you’re having trouble viewing this image.

The young boy, who fell into a river in Midleton, was brought to CUH by ambulance after concerns were raised about the lack of a helipad at the hospital. He was later transferred to Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin where he died.

Now, as well as the airport arrangements, both Irish Coastguard Sikorsky helicopters, and the Irish Air Corps’ Augusta Westland 139 (AW139) and Eurocopter 135 (EC135) – which account for the majority of air transfers to CUH – can land on the GAA and rugby pitches next to the hospital.

Usually the gardaí and an ambulance will arrive about ten minutes before the helicopters land with patients who have been in serious accidents or require transplants being brought by helicopter to the pitch, from there an ambulance transfers them to CUH within two to three minutes.

This video shows what appears to be a dry-run of a helicopter landing on the pitch at Bishopstown GAA Club:

YouTube: Darren O Keeffe

Now the HSE hopes to have a permanent, 24-hour helipad operational on the grounds of Highfield RFC to both receive critically ill or injured patients and transfer them elsewhere for specialist care such as paediatrics or complex spinal injuries.

“We are pleased to confirm that work on and around the Highfield RFC site is expected to be completed within the next few weeks,” the HSE said this week in a statement.

Long-term, the HSE hopes to develop a rooftop helipad on the existing emergency department but this will cost €2 million and will require planning and funding approval.

The HSE also points out that the Coastguard helicopters are not approved for landing on a rooftop helipad and will still have to land at the nearby Highfield site.

“Patient care is at all times paramount and depending on the nature of the patient’s condition, CUH may also dispatch a medical team to retrieve the patient from the helicopter at Cork Airport, or escort the patient from CUH directly to the receiving hospital,” the HSE said in a statement.

Read: Proposals to downgrade Waterford Regional Hospital to county status

Read: Thousands of ‘incidents and near misses’ at two hospitals last year

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Hugh O'Connell

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