The Irish Times – Tuesday, November 3, 2009
by ÁILÍN QUINLAN
THEIR DREAM is to have a flying doctor-type service for the sprawling terrain in which they live, but so far one small community has helped save 11 lives with a special accident and emergency vehicle.
The West Cork Rapid Response service was established last March by a group of residents who decided their far-flung region needed extra emergency medical cover.
“If you live in a remote part of west Cork you could be two hours away from accident and emergency help,” explained spokesman and Baltimore-based businessman, John Kearney.
“There are four ambulances based in the region, but there can be times when two or even three of them are already busy.”
Long term, he said, the group aims to get a flying doctor-style helicopter service up and running, but they’ve started with a 4X4 operating out of Bantry which is staffed by volunteer doctors and carries vital medical equipment. The vehicle, which cost around €100,000 to purchase and equip – about €70,000 of which was grant-aided by the Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the rest raised locally – went into operation last March under the 999 emergency call-out system following negotiations with the HSE.
The SUV is on call four to five days a week and can generally get to a scene within 45 minutes, said Mr Kearney.
“We have one or two doctors available on a part-time basis, while a number of GPs are currently up-skilling in AE techniques.
“Ultimately, we hope to have a full roster of doctors available on a 24-hour call-out rota, but at the moment we are operating on an availability basis.
“We’re contacted through the 999 system and if we’re on service we’ll be dispatched. We’re currently operating four or five days a week, but hope to build up to a seven-day roster.”
Between March and September, the service took part in 60 call-outs. “We were called out to help everyone from babies to teenagers, adults and the elderly and dealt with everything from heart attacks to road traffic, domestic and marine accidents,” said Mr Kearney.
The service – to be formally launched in Bantry by Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon Ó Cuív on Friday November 20th – depends heavily on volunteers.
“It wouldn’t be possible without the GPs who give up their time and the dedicated committee members who do everything from fundraising to managing the rota system,” he added.