Ireland Air Ambulance

Ireland Air Ambulance – was it ever a scam?

Posted in Uncategorized by bproject on August 13, 2010

  1. Was it ever a scam?
    No – the plan was always to raise money, get the fundraising and administrative infrastructure in place, and then launch the service

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  2. Who suggested that it was?
    The initial story was run by BBC NI – basically they suggested that the Charity was one of the fastest growing in Northern Ireland, and highlighted the fact that a sum of money had been raised, but no helicopter had yet appeared
  3. If that suggestion was wrong, why was it not challenged?
    The people involved in the organisation at the time would argue that the nature of the BBC report was never properly explained, nor was an opportunity given to present the facts – it was very poor “sensationalist” journalism with no attempt to properly investigate, or accurately portray the organisation’s plans – of course the counter argument would be that the organisation couldn’t defend itself because what the BBC were alleging was actually true. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
  4. So the organisation couldn’t defend itself?
    Essentially no – once the BBC report had been run, there was very little the organisation could do, apart from spend ridiculous amounts of charitable funds (which WOULD have been very questionable) on professional PR to try to counter some or all of the claims made, by telling the truth and answering questions accurately.
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  6. So the original organisation did nothing wrong?
    No – I didn’t say that (and hindsight is of course a wonderful thing…) – the old organisation should have defended itself better, and should definitely have been more open with the BBC in explaining their plans, the stage they were at, and how they foresaw the future – that of course assumes that the BBC would have engaged constructively, and were not simply in a destructive mode. Naturally the presumption is that as a public service and responsible broadcaster, they would have co-operated in fully investigating and establishing the truth, not simply engaged in sensationalist headline-seeking.
  7. What does this “original organisation” mean?
    Sorry – I should have explained that. One of the quite correct observations around the time of the initial BBC reports was that there was a weakness in the structure of the old organisation. Most UK charities are companies, limited by guarantee, but many start up exactly as the old organisation did – as a “good idea”. Trustees are often then recruited as much for their willingness to become involved – not for their professional skills or backgrounds. That was what happened with IAA – the original Trustees were there because they genuinely believed in (and in many cases VOLUNTARILY worked for) the cause – no payments were thought of or given. BUT long before the BBC report, it was realised that running a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service is a significant business – it needs professional direction, and when a charity like this, requires a widely experienced Board of Trustees, and where, as in most sizeable UK charities, it is also a Company Limited by Guarantee, these Trustees are also Directors of the Company.
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  9. So everything is OK now then?
    Well – if you mean in respect of structure and governance – yes – the Company is registered and the Board appointed – full details are on our web pages. If you mean, have we recovered from the BBC attack, the answer is “no”. People still Google us and find the reports – indeed, even this year when we announced that the structural changes were now in place and the old Trustees and senior staff had fully withdrawn, the BBC chose to headline this as “Air Ambulance grounded” – no attempt to state the accurate picture – that we had totally put our house in order, and that the Company was taking the concept forward, for which there is tremendous support “out there” – again, totally unnecessary NEGATIVE reporting, when what really should have been asked is “would an Air Ambulance make sense in Northern Ireland / is it something which the people want”. Undoubtedly the answer to both of those questions is “YES” – that’s why it was the fastest growing charity in Northern Ireland according to the initial BBC attack.
  10. What about the initial report – what about this £700k+ which was reportedly raised?
    Ok – let’s tackle that one – yes, it was accurate, but this never was a capital project. It was NEVER about “let’s raise £x and buy a helicopter” – that’s simply not the way things work. The organisation started in 2006, and in the period to 31st March 2008 raised £194k. It became more successful throughout 2008/9 and raised another £478k in the year to 31st March 2009 – the initial BBC attack came shortly after the end of the 1st quarter of 2009/10 (i.e. early summer 2009). The problem is – this was (and is) about raising a sustainable £1.5m EVERY YEAR to keep an Air Ambulance flying, and to be fair, the old organisation weren’t that far off – other income streams would have been developed and nurtured had the BBC not attacked, and the organisation could have got to that £1.5m pa target with some changes in emphasis and perhaps some changes in resources (staff, etc).
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  12. Would they have got there?
    The honest answer is – we’ll never know – but the initial BBC report and the various supplementary attacks and comments have severely curtailed fundraising income. Of course the attackers would say “and so it should”, but what they don’t seem to realise is that they have severely damaged a concept which the people of Northern Ireland seem to believe passionately in, and want to happen – that is why we (the Company) are continuing to push forward.
  13. Will you get there?
    Again, the honest answer is – I really don’t know. What I DO know is it won’t be for the want of trying if we don’t – the current Board of IAA are a sincere, experienced group who are not being paid ANYTHING and yet passionately believe in the concept. The very small number of paid staff we have are equally sincere in wanting to make this happen – yes of course we’re being paid, but it is impossible to run any significant charitable enterprise on volunteer power alone – charities are businesses whether we like it or not – and in the case of one like ourselves who are seeking to provide a professional medical service, we absolutely need to be – our statutory sector colleagues need to work with competent and well managed organisations, who have the capacity, credibility and capability to deliver.
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  15. What is the current attitude of the statutory sector?
    Well – as you probably know, last year, senior sources were quoted as “not seeing a need for an Air Ambulance”. We hope we’ve moved on slightly from that, and indeed, the Government have recently published the fact that they are talking to a number of organisations (ourselves included) who believe that we can operate such a service here – I think all are modelled along the lines of those already operating in England and Wales. Of course we don’t yet know whether our colleagues in the statutory sector will choose to work with us to establish such a service, but we very much hope that will be the outcome (and sooner rather than later…). Health Service budgets are tremendously under pressure (as indeed are Charities) but if we can succeed in raising £1.5m per annum, and delivering this “free” service for the people of Northern Ireland, we will have achieved something.
  16. If the Government say “yes” – can you get a helicopter?
    I can’t really go very deeply into this one for reasons of commercial confidentiality. Suffice to say that the old organisation had sourced a helicopter, and were basically caught in the rather messy situation of not having backing from the statutory sector to make it happen.
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  18. So all you need is backing from the Government?
    No – it’s a bit more complicated than that – even if there is a “yes” or even a “maybe” tomorrow, there is a considerable amount of work to be done. All of clinical governance and aviation procedures need to put in place, as well as the tasking arrangements for the service. Obviously in the case of the English and Welsh charities that we seek to pick up best practice from, you don’t ring 999 for a land ambulance and 998 for an air ambulance – the tasking is done from within ambulance control, based on their expertise of where an air ambulance capability is best deployed – all of that has to be put in place.
  19. So what is the time scale?
    I honestly can’t say – it depends on how quickly the statutory sector are prepared to work with us to get all of the processes in place. We’re ready, and an aircraft is fairly readily available – all it needs is for us to raise the tempo and scale of our fundraising – once a “go” level is achieved, bring the helicopter in and start the service, but don’t underestimate all of the compliance and protocol matters outlined earlier – they will take time.
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  21. So where did the money go that was previously raised?
    As outlined earlier, in the period to 31/3/08 they raised £194k and expenditure was £175k. For the year to 31/3/09 they raised £478k and spent £409k. Both of those periods were audited. In relation to the final period (of the old organisation) from 1st April 2009 to date (cessation) they raised £372k and spent £427k (£317k salaries & expenses, £34k office costs, £8k coin handling costs, £67k other overheads). The cessation accounts have NOT been audited, but the books are open to the Board of Directors of the new Company, should they wish to have an independent examination carried out.


One Response

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  1. Bill Megraw said, on August 14, 2010 at 8:12 am

    See for original article, which will be updated with any further questions and answers as they happen

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