Air ambulance service can be lifeline for farmers and rural dwellers

An prototype of the Air Ambulance Helicopter to be acquired. (Courtesy of ICAA)

by Diarmuid Cohalan

Throughout the length and breath of Ireland they are countless examples of families whose lives have been blighted by the death or disability of a loved one as a result of accidents of various types.

However, their grief and trauma is greatly exacerbated when families realise that their loved one may have survived had they received proper medical attention on time. This is one of the main drivers for putting in place an emergency Air Ambulance service that would ensure the fastest possible response to a serious accident or emergency, with the single objective of getting the patient to an A&E hospital on time.

Irish Community Air Ambulance (ICAA) is an extension to the Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) that was set up in 2008, whose volunteer first-responder doctors have helped to save the lives of many accident and emergency patients. The work of West Cork Rapid Response in particular, and the efforts of Dr Jason Van der Velde, an emergency pre-hospital physician are highly appreciated throughout West Cork and further afield. The invaluable work of ICRR throughout Ireland was appropriately recognised earlier this year by the Government’s provision of state funding to the amount of €446,000, which ICRR expect will double its number of on-call volunteer doctors, with the knock on effect of more lives being saved throughout rural Ireland.

The new Air Ambulance service, which is now being launched by ICAA (a community subsidiary of ICRR), will be an invaluable extension to the existing Rapid Response service. The crucial objective of the service is to reach an accident/emergency scene anywhere in Munster, and beyond, within 30 minutes of call-out. The Air Ambulance service will be based in Cork Airport. In the event of a serious accident or emergency it’s anticipated that the service will reach the scene and transfer the patient, to the most appropriate A&E Centre of Excellence within the shortest time possible.

The Health and Safety Authority has consistently highlighted the fact that farming is by far the most hazardous accident prone occupation sector in Ireland, with between 30% and 50% of all workplace deaths occurring on farms and and in farming related activity. In addition victims of non-fatal farm accidents are often at a distinct disadvantage in the race against time to get a rapid medical response. Their farms may be located in remote rural areas that are a long distance from proper A&E hospitals and in many instances, farmers are working alone in their farm yards or out in the fields when an accident occurs with life-threatening injuries.

Former Irish Farmers Association President John Dillon has been one of many farm accident victims. He suffered a serious accident on his farm in 2005 when his farm quad bike overturned on top of him, pinning and seriously damaging one of his legs.

John is adamant that he survived the accident only because his son was present to render assistance and to call the emergency services, which got him to hospital on time for medical staff to control severe hemorrhaging. Clearly, from John Dillon’s experience, getting the accident victim to a hospital A&E as quickly as possible is of paramount importance

In 2012, in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), John Dillon went public to highlight the risks of farm quad bike accidents, and appealed to farmers to exercise the utmost care when using them.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) state that that the numbers of non-fatal farm accidents are far greater than what’s reported to the HSE, despite the legal obligation to report workplace accidents. The HSE states that the numbers reported are just the tip of the iceberg. This is borne out by the 2011 National Farm Survey results that report significant numbers of amputations and injuries amongst the farming community causing long-term disabilities. The survey estimated that farm accidents increased by 35% since 2006, indicating that close to 2,500 farm accidents occurred annually in recent years. Hence the importance of an Air Ambulance services, which in the event of an accident would greatly benefit farmers and rural dwellers located long distances from A&E Hospitals.

Doctors and medical professionals who work in Accident and Emergency hospital departments consistently highlight the importance of the ‘‘golden hour’’, which is the one hour period immediately after an accident or medical emergency occurs. It is well established that a patient’s chances of survival are greatest if they receive appropriate care for their injuries or medical emergency within one hour. The ‘‘golden hour” rule is also crucial when dealing with non-accidents emergencies, such as stroke, a brain hemorrhage or serious cardiac arrest. A 2011 study by the British Medical Journal estimated that for those types of conditions, a person’s chances of survival improved by some 24% for every five-minute reduction in response time.

The availability of an Air Ambulance is crucially important for the increasing numbers of rural dwellers who commute long distances to work in towns and cities, which puts them at increased risk of being involved in road accidents, especially in winter-time with ice on roads and bad driving conditions. An Air Ambulance can quickly get to the scene of a road accident and remove the accident victim/victims to proper A&E care in the shortest possible time. In some instances, this could be the difference between life and death and in other instances it could be the difference between making a full recovery or having a disability for life.

Dr Tony Lynch has worked in Emergency Departments in both Cork and abroad and now assists as a voluntary physician in serious farm and road accident scenes. Dr Lynch was present at the recent IFA Farm Safety public event in Macroom Mart and explained the advantages of having an Air Ambulance helicopter to bring pre-hospital emergency medics to the scene of a farm accident, which would offer an opportunity to deliver early pain relief.

Dr Lynch stated “As a medic the treatment of pain is paramount. If I can transfer a patient to A&E in a comfortable pain free manner I can reduce both mortality and morbidity. Research shows us again and again that the physical trauma of an accident is one thing but the post traumatic stress in reliving those moments also have a huge effect on our patients once the initial injury has healed. This is a service that is needed by our farming/rural communities.’’

Also at the IFA Farm Safety event in Macroom Kathleen Murphy, Project Manager with ICAA, appealed to farmers and the broader rural community in the Muster region to contribute as much as possible to ensure that the Air Ambulance service becomes available as soon as possible. She said ‘‘the aim right now is to raise the initial €1 million cost of putting the service in place, in order to deliver pre-hospital emergency care at accidents scenes on farms, roads and construction sites. While the financial cost of providing an Air Ambulance helicopter service is high, the service will offer an important lifeline to farmers and rural dwellers in the future’’

Both direct contribution and direct debits can be made by contacting Irish Community Air Ambulance at

Telephone 021 – 4190999 Mobile 087- 9970997

Diarmuid Cohalan works as a volunteer with the Irish Community Air Ambulance who is currently fundraising €1 million to launch an accident Air Ambulance service. He outlines why this live-saving services deserves strong support from farmers and rural dwellers.