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Defence Forces strongly refute 'organ transfer blunder' reports

“The media report of them “scaling a fence” is fanciful in the extreme,” it said in the statement.

Members of the Defence Forces re-enacted the operation this morning to highlight the inaccuracies of the report.
Members of the Defence Forces re-enacted the operation this morning to highlight the inaccuracies of the report.
Image: Defence Forces Press Office

THE DEFENCE FORCES have strongly refuted reports that its Air Corps was involved in a ‘organ transfer fiasco’ last week.

According to the Irish Daily Mail this morning, there was “another organ transfer blunder” last Tuesday after the helicopter which was transporting a heart and lung landed in a locked sports ground.

However, in a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Defence Forces said the air ambulance mission was successfully completed – without any delays or problems – on 22 May. During the operation, a specialist HSE transplant team was taken from Dublin to a regional location and returned to the capital by AW 139 helicopter with the organs for transplant.

The mission was flown using night-vision goggles so that the helicopter could land as close as possible to the Mater Hospital, rather than at the Baldonnel Aerodrome. A spokesperson for the Air Corps said this saved the transplant team valuable time. He added that Air Corps pilots are the only pilots in Ireland authorised to fly using night-vision goggles.

The aircraft landed in the Army Sports Ground in the Phoenix Park at about 3am, less than 3kms from the operating rooms of the hospital. The landing site, which is a series of football pitches surrounded by a low-railing (waist-to-chest height) with a gate, is regularly used.

As the Irish Daily Mail report indicated, the route from the landing site to the awaiting ambulance was through the railing but the Defence Forces insisted it did not delay or impede the transfer.

“The media report of them “scaling a fence” is fanciful in the extreme,” it said in the statement.

The medical team were escorted by two of the air crew who were wearing night vision goggles and they were assisted in passing their equipment over the fence and then passed under the upper bar of the railing themselves.

A military escort party was also waiting outside the ground and assisted the medical team further to the waiting private ambulance.

Defence Forces strongly refute 'organ transfer blunder' reports
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  • Organ Transfer re-enactment

  • Organ Transfer re-enactment

  • Organ Transfer re-enactment

A spokesperson for the Defence Forces added that the mission was carried out in accordance with a service level agreement between the departments of health and defence covering inter-hospital patient transfer and organ retrieval.

The Air Corps were also highly critical of the report revealing where the organs were being transported from. Commenting on the Irish Daily Mail’s front page, it added:

This media story does a great disservice to the men and women of the Air Corps who completed 71 Air Ambulance Missions in 2011 and 46 so far this year. Many of the heli Air Ambulance missions are flown and landed in difficult and highly technical conditions using night vision goggles so as to save as much time as possible for the transplant teams.

David Hall from Lifeline Ambulance Service, which organised the road transfer of the organs last week, said that while he admits the railing network was “not exceptionally difficult to deal with”, he continues to express concerns about the lack of coordination around organ transplant transfers. He said the HSE’s dedicated aeromedical desk needs to be established correctly so all communications can be channelled appropriately.

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