Still no overnight emergency helicopters

7th January 2011, Comments 0 comments


Plans to begin an overnight emergency helicopter service have been grounded following a decision by deputy Infrastructure Minister Joop Atsma to deny the required night licenses. He says it is too dangerous for helicopters to take off from hospital roofs at night, even for emergency assistance.

The decision affects two trauma helicopters in the Netherlands, one based at the Groningen Medical Centre and the other at Amsterdam's Free University Medical Centre. These helicopters take off from helipads on the roofs of the buildings. Helicopter flights from hospitals in the south-eastern city of Nijmegen and the port of Rotterdam are not affected by the decision, because they take off from the ground.

The owner of the helicopters, Dutch motoring association ANWB, is furious. ANWB managing director Guido van Woerkom told Dutch daily, "This decision means valuable time will be lost in emergencies involving seriously injured victims in traffic and areas where people go out at night."

But the minister says the emergency night flights are "an avoidable risk".

The ANWB and hospitals have been working together for many years to organise the night flights and are almost ready to launch the service. Mr Van Woerkom calls the decision "incomprehensible". He thinks it is strange that the Ministry of Health welcomes the flights while the Minister of Infrastructure refuses to issue a licence to fly at night.

The ANWB and one of the hospitals involved intend to send a letter to parliament about the night flights.

The discussion about night flights was rekindled after the New Year's Eve fire in Volendam in 2001, in which 14 people were killed and 180 injured. Then the Health Ministry decided to introduce a national network covering the whole country by 1 April 2011.



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