Northern Ireland’s first air ambulance will inherit the call sign of the tragic motorbike doctor who long campaigned for the service before his death.
Dr John Hinds, known as one of the “flying doctors” of Irish motorcycle sport, was a vocal advocate for a medical helicopter to transport the seriously sick and injured to hospital.
The 35-year-old from Co Down, who had lobbied Stormont to create a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS), died in a motorcycle crash while providing volunteer medical cover at the Skerries 100 race in Dublin last July.
In last week’s Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced £4.5 million to help provide an air ambulance for Northern Ireland – the only UK region not currently covered by such a service.
Stormont’s Health Minister Simon Hamilton revealed further details about the envisaged service on Monday – what would have been Dr Hinds’ 36th birthday.
The ambulance will be based at Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove, Co Antrim – where it will be within a 25-minute flight time of any part of Northern Ireland – and it will transport patients to Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service will take the lead in deploying the ambulance to incidents.
The aircraft will also have the call sign “Delta 7”, which was the one used by Dr Hinds.
The announcement was made at Craigavon Area Hospital, where the doctor was based before his death.
Dr Hinds’ family and partner took on his campaign for an air ambulance in the wake of his death.
The late medic’s partner, Dr Janet Acheson, attended the event, as did First Minister Arlene Foster.
“This is a day of mixed emotions for all of the Hinds and Acheson families,” said Dr Acheson. “Today as a family we should have been celebrating John’s 36th birthday.
“Last year, for his birthday John’s mum Josephine gave him a model London HEMS helicopter because he had a dream of a world-leading, trauma network with a doctor-led HEMS at its core. That is now a huge step closer to reality.
“This is the start – this is where the work begins. Hopefully it will not take too long to literally ‘lift off’, but it is better to get it right than rush into a second-class service. It takes time to build the right team and the right structure. John believed in high performance.”
Mr Hamilton said: “John Hinds and I shared the same vision of a world-class pre-hospital emergency service and it is fitting that today we are here in his hospital base on what would have been his birthday, with his partner, Dr Janet Acheson, his family and many of his work colleagues announcing that we are making his dream a reality.
“We will now develop a service specification for a daylight hours Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, which is physician led but also supported by paramedics. It will provide a primary response role initially for major trauma incidents and develop into a secondary response role helping, for example, heart attack and stroke patients, at an appropriate time in the future.”
Mr Hamilton said preparatory works, such as procurement, recruitment and building the helipad at the Royal Victoria, would begin shortly.
The minister said his department would provide sufficient funds to ensure the continuity of the service in the long term, adding there was also a potential role for charity support.
He said the registered charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland had come forward with proposals to build a robust funding base in the local community.