An EU agreement about ambulance jet planes is to strengthen health preparedness in Northern Norway and Svalbard.
The Ministry of Health and Care has decided to place an ambulance jet plane in Tromsø. The plane will be the potential Norwegian contribution in an EU program for transporting patients with serious infectious diseases.
“Such a resource also means reinforcing preparedness in Norway, as this jet plane may be added to the Norwegian air ambulance services in periods during which it is not used to transport high-risk patients in the EU”, State Secretary Anne Grethe Erlandsen of the Ministry of Health and Care writes in an email to High North News.
Important for Svalbard
The Svalbard community has fought since long to have an ambulance jet stationed in Tromsø.
“If something occurs here, time is a critical factor. We are completely dependent on being able to transport seriously ill patients to the mainland. Time is often a crucial factor. An ambulance jet flies faster than regular propeller planes and that is definitely something we want”, Manager Bente Brataas at Longyearbyen hospital says to High North News.
While a jet plane uses some 1.5 hours from Tromsø to Svalbard, a propeller plane would need 2 hours and 20 minutes to cover the same distance. In addition, jet planes can handle more weather and more cargo than the propeller planes.
“We are totally dependent on being able to trust that we have a proper plane that can come fast when wee need it. That provides security for everyone living and traveling here”, Brataas says.
Arctic special resource
Former Head of Clinic at Tromsø University Hospital Mads Gilbert said to Svalbardposten last January that a jet plane in Tromsø had to become a permanent solution for Northern Norway. Such a plane will be an important part of the national preparedness resources and will work as an Arctic special resource.
“It will provide new opportunities to reach Svalbard as well as main airports in Northern Norway quickly. In addition, we could fly special patient groups to national centers in Norway really fast; premature babies with malformations to Oslo University Hospital, patients with burn wounds to Haukeland University Hospital, transplant patients, or patients who have to go abroad”, the Head of Clinic said.
In May 2020, the Norwegian parliament Stortinget asked the government to provide a permanent ambulance jet plane in Tromsø. In June, the Ministry of Health and Care requested the regional health organizations facilitate a jet plane in Tromsø and also connect this with potential Norwegian assistance under the EU program for transport of seriously ill patients with infectious diseases.
If something occurs here, time is a critical factor
In a press release related to the Norwegian state budget 2021, which was presented last week, the government confirms that it has entered into an agreement with the EU about infection planes. According to the press release, the scheme means that the EU will fully fund the ambulance jet service for the 2021-2026 period. Initially, this covers some € 5 million this year.
This is to cover preparations, training, expenses related to acquiring planes and expenditures for medical-technical equipment. After that, the EU will cover operations and stand-by preparedness.
The agreement has an accumulated cost frame of about € 60 million for the entire period.
“We are looking into how the plane, when in place, can support the air ambulance services in Norway during periods in which it is not being used to transport high-risk patients, and how this will reinforce our national preparedness, Norwegian Health Director Bjørn Guldvog says in the press release.
“Expecting quick delivery”
High North News asks State Secretary Anne Grethe Erlandsen about when the jet is to be in place, how the process leading there will be, who is to operate the plane, how much time they expect it to be prepared for EU missions, and about whether the plane will be part of the “normal” ambulance plane preparedness when not on EU missions.
Erlandsen replies that it is too soon to answer some of these questions now:
“On a general basis, we can say it would be natural for this plane resource to be added to the overall air ambulance capacity, which is organized under the publicly owned Air Ambulance Services. We expect such a resource to be established within a rather short period of time and for the plane to be a genuine resource in our regular, national air ambulance preparedness too. We have a very competent air ambulance community in Norway, and they are also good at managing infection control. They have demonstrated this most recently during the Corona pandemic”, she writes.
Has not been tasked yet
Managing Director of the Air Ambulance Services Øyvind Juell says he does not know more about the matter than what High North News has referred to.
“We have not yet been tasked with anything in that case”, he says.
In addition to the jet air ambulance in Tromsø, the government proposes to allocate NOK 60 million to a permanent ambulance helicopter in Kirkenes.
This is the case
In May 2016, it was announced that the Air Ambulance Services were to introduce jet planes in Tromsø and Oslo. In October the same year, the four regional health enterprises did a 180 degrees turn when processing the case about future air ambulance planes.
They decided against the jet plane in Tromsø due to opposition from Finnmark. The professional community there argued that the jet plane would lead to a shift in patients from Hammerfest hospital to Tromsø, as jet planes cannot land in Hammerfest. In addition, the regional health enterprises received less money from the state budget than they had expected.
There was thus not sufficient funding for both day plane in Alta and jet plane in Tromsø.
In June 2020, the Storting requested the government to provide for permanent ambulance jet plane in Tromsø and an ambulance helicopter in Kirkenes.
Last week, the government announced that it has entered into cooperation with the EU about an ambulance jet plane that may also assist patients with serious infectious diseases. When not being used by the EU, the plane will be on preparedness stand-by.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.