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Emergency medicine doctors to crew helicopter response service alongside paramedics in new trial

The Taoiseach has been warned of ‘profound and systemic’ failures in pre-hospital care.

EMERGENCY MEDICINE CONSULTANTS are to take part in a trial that will see them crew helicopter emergency medicine service (HEMS), Taoiseach Simon Harris has confirmed. 

As reported by The Journal, the Taoiseach has been warned in recent weeks of “profound and systemic” failures in such pre-hospital care, and that Irish people have potentially been “misled” about the quality of care delivered to critically ill and dying trauma patients before they reach hospital.

Ireland is an outlier in not sending specialist doctors to the scene of serious accidents to work with paramedics.

Potentially life-saving interventions that can be provided on the roadside in other jurisdictions, including the UK and Northern Ireland, cannot be performed by Irish ambulance crews, which comprise paramedics and advanced paramedics whose scope of practice is more limited than that of doctors.

TD Cathal Berry raised the matter with the Taoiseach in the Dáil this afternoon.

Harris said he was “very pleased” to announce that the HSE national ambulance service are about to commence a feasibility study of physicians crewing the HEMS aircraft next month.

The trial is expected to last around four months.

“This trial will see the national ambulance service affiliated emergency medicine consultants with considerable experience in pre-hospital emergency medicine undertaking a number of rotations per week on each of the HEMS aircraft alongside advanced paramedics,” Harris told the Dáil.  

Harris said the ambulance service will then evaluate the information gathered from the trial to determine the clinical competencies best suited for the HEMS and how best to deploy physicians in the future to support optimal clinical outcomes for patients.

Dr William Passmore, an NHS consultant in emergency medicine and pre-hospital emergency medicine, has sent the Taoiseach data setting out the case for an upskilled HEMS for the thousands of people seriously injured each year in Ireland.

Writing in The Journal yesterday, Dr Brian Burns, an Irish pre-hospital consultant based in Australia, urged the government to work with Northern Ireland to establish an all-island HEMS.

“There are time-critical interventions and decision making that must occur early in that initial golden hour [after traumatic injury] that makes the difference between life or death; the difference between return to family, friends and work versus severe long-term disability and lifetime care,” Burns wrote.

Harris has yesterday that he will “listen very carefully” to pre-hospital emergency medicine consultants who have raised concerns about deficiencies in Ireland’s ambulance service.

“I very much look forward to taking that meeting and hope that this trial gives us some good information too,” he added. 

The helicopter service provides rapid access for patients to the most appropriate clinical care, said the Taoiseach.

“But this is an area in which we should be seeking to do more. We should be examining our responses and we should be willing to listen to new ideas,” he added. 

With reporting by Valerie Flynn

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