Air Ambulance Charity’s Fury Over Lottery Grant Refusals

A charity campaigning to provide Ulster’s first air ambulance is launching a public consultation to highlight its anger over being refused lottery funding.

The Alpha 5 Air Ambulance Group believes it should be entitled to ‘good causes’ money from the Big Lottery Fund.

Northern Ireland is the only UK region without a service.

Mark Sellers, from Alpha 5, said the charity had asked the Big Lottery Fund in Belfast, which distributes National Lottery charity cash in the province, for help with costs on three occasions over the past 18 months, but had been turned down.

He said the public was beginning to ask volunteers fund-raising for the charity why they were not entitled to the cash.

“We decided to make it a bit more formal and actually have a public consultation on the issue,” he said. “We will have volunteers out and about on the streets and in shopping centres with petitions to try and gauge public opinion on this.

“I can’t think of anything that could be described better as a ‘good cause’ than an air ambulance. It is a service that will save lives and that will be available to help every single person in Northern Ireland.

“I can’t understand why they would deny cash for that. How many petitions will it take before they might sit up and listen?”

The chopper can be airborne three minutes after receiving a 999 call and have patients in hospital well within the recommended ‘golden hour’. A specially-trained doctor on board will be able to bring the skills of a hospital to critically ill patients.

The charity could either lease a helicopter at a cost of £2.5m per year, or buy a chopper outright at £4m and cover its running costs.

A Big Lottery Fund spokesman said: “We have explained that Big Lottery Fund in Northern Ireland run a series of programmes each of which have a budget and specific requirements. We have publicly consulted on these programmes and they are planned to run between 2006-09. Each programme has a closing date for applications.

“Air ambulance services are eligible to apply for a range of programmes run by Big Lottery Fund. None of our programmes could fund an application for £4m for capital equipment such as an air ambulance.

“Most of our programmes offer a percentage of funding for capital and this could be used for equipment or building works.

“For example, under our Reaching Communities NI programme applicants can apply for a maximum grant of £500,000 for five years of work, but the maximum amount of money for capital/equipment is £50,000.”