The Department of Health have claimed that “additional investment” will be made to the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) as a result of the proposals to reshape stroke services in Northern Ireland.

Currently the air ambulance does not fly at night and runs from 7am to 7pm but a Department of Health Spokesperson has said that this will change with more funding promised:

“The Reshaping Stroke Care consultation proposes extending the HEMS air ambulance service to coordinate with emergency road transport for patients with strokes and other conditions in remote rural areas to ensure they arrive at specialist centres for treatment as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said before adding:

“This would include additional investment to existing landing sites to allow HEMS to operate in the hours of darkness.”

According to the Department it provided “in the region of £1million” per year towards the funding of the current HEMS service. This money is spent on medical equipment, staff costs and medicines. The rest of the funding comes from the Air Ambulance Northern Ireland charity.

Responding to questions from this newspaper the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) confirmed that at present the air ambulance does not run at night at present.

It also confirmed that the ambulance does not fly in certain weather conditions:

“Adverse weather can impact and place limitations on the helicopter being able to fly, however in these cases the crew will operate a ground response by car so the service and team remain operational,” a spokesperson said before going on to expand on the type of conditions that can affect the service:

“This is variable and will always be subject to pilot decision based on safety, aviation regulations and exemptions. Example of weather conditions might be, speed of wind gusts, freezing conditions with moisture in the air, poor visibility.”

The consultation document into the future of stroke services has out forward six options, four of which would see the closure of the stroke unit at South West Acute Hospital and leave some patients in Fermanagh over 60 miles away from their nearest stroke unit.