Life-saving services provided by Air Ambulance NI (AANI) could be further enhanced if an Omagh family and their campaign team can persuade Fermanagh and Omagh District councillors to follow their Mid Ulster Council colleagues and agree to consider the possibility of contributing approximately 1/11th or £181,818 of the costs every year to help run its mercy missions.
Since coming into operation in July 2017, Air Ambulance NI has played a huge role in bringing emergency hospital care to the remotest regions by helping the injured at the scene of accidents, as well as providing them with emergency transport to hospitals. Serious or life-threatening situations can happen to anyone at any time and on average, every single day in Northern Ireland, one individual finds themselves in desperate need of AANI.
The medical helicopter increasingly reaches deeper into remote areas where ground ambulances might take actual hours to get to. They also take patients from existing rural hospitals - often running on under pressure staffs and are unequipped to deal with major emergencies - to emergency wards in Belfast.
But while no one argues over the need for medical helicopters, rural areas or not, they’re not cheap. What is not widely known is that AANI is a charity. Each day costs in the region of £5,500 and £2m is needed each year to keep this air ambulance service operational. It relies entirely on support from the public and local businesses, including Gifts in Wills.
Sadly for one local family they know all too well of how vital a service it provides. The McKinley family, from Ballynahatty, lost their 21-year-old daughter, Kyra, who died tragically from injuries received in a car accident on the Deverney Road, Omagh last August. The Air Ambulance allowed her quick transit to hospital in Belfast and meant that her organs could subsequently be donated to save other lives.
Following Kyra's untimely death, her family requested that people donate to the rescue team from AANI, which also helped them cherish their final moments with her. Her heartbroken parents, Raymond and Valerie, older sister Alex and younger brother, Glenn, have continued fundraising on behalf of AANI and together with friends and many generous contributions at fundraising events have already hit the £43,000 mark.
Last Thursday Mid Ulster Council unanimously backed former chairperson, Cllr Kim Ashton's motion acknowledging the great work of Air Ambulance NI and the fact this life-saving service had to be deployed 33 times to the Mid Ulster area during the first 10 months in 2018. She also asked they recognise the significant public fundraising efforts to keep the service operational.
The latter part of her motion, calling on the council to contribute 1/11th (£181,818) of the running costs of the service which currently is £2 million pounds annually and that they write to the other 10 councils urging them to match Mid Ulster District Council’s commitment, was deferred to be considered at the next meeting of its Policy and Resources committee.
The charity’s operational helicopter carries a crew compiling pilot, doctor, and paramedic, 365 days of the year operating for 12 hours every day. They attend some of the most traumatic medical incidents across the province and are dedicated to delivering the very best possible pre-hospital care, both at the scene and whilst transferring the patient to the most appropriate hospital for their specific injuries.
Their EC135 helicopter can get anywhere in the province in approximately 25 to 30 minutes and the rapid response is vital in an emergency situation. If a patient reaches hospital within the Golden Hour (60 minutes after their injury) their chances of survival are dramatically increased.
Kyra's father, Raymond, said he was very grateful for Cllr Ashton's initiative adding the family had already made contact with several of the Fermanagh and Omagh district councillors and they were quite interested, he said.
"I know the matter has still to be passed yet at Mid Ulster Council, but I'm very happy to see it happening. This would not only be a fitting tribute to Kyra, but to everyone who they had helped. Unfortunately it has been well used and it's now a service we can't do without out here in the west. We have to keep it in the sky."
He confirmed their own fundraising organised by the family and friends was close to £43,000 adding he would have no problem addressing the local council on how they could help the service.
"We've committed to keep fundraising until we can get the Northern Ireland Assembly or local councils to take over the cost of running the air ambulance service. The thing about the air ambulance, it doesn't matter what colour or creed you are because when they are tasked, they go. It's also a vital service for the agricultural community. The AANI are monitoring all 999 calls coming through and as soon as they hear of a farm accident they are tasked straight away because they know how dangerous and serious a farm incident can be," he said.
Mr McKinley said their local council now had a chance to make a real difference.
"Their support could make a real difference and save lives too. Mid Ulster Council – through Cllr Ashton – are looking at how they can progress matters and I'm hoping to contact as many of our local councillors as I can to get them to follow suit."
He added as far as he was aware Mid Ulster Council was intending to write to the other councils and if all contributed the same as it was planning, it could run the service each year.
The next fundraising event being organised by the McKinley family takes place this coming Saturday night, February 2. The 'Kocktails for Kyra' event takes place in Lola's at Silverbirch Hotel, Omagh. Entry fee is £5 and all proceeds go to AANI.