INEM helicopter
INEM helicopters cannot assure full 24/ 7 service for start of 2024

Two of country’s four INEM emergency rescue helicopters to cease nighttime operations

Stoppage due to financial constraints

Two of the country’s four INEM emergency medical rescue helicopters are to cease nighttime operations from January 1.

A statement issued by INEM explains that the helicopters in question are those operating out of Viseu and Évora. The other two helicopters, based in Macedo de Cavaleiros and Loulé, Algarve, will continue to operate 24 hours a day.

According to INEM president  Luís Meira, the situation should remain in place for a maximum of six months.

In Viseu and Évora, at night, from the New Year “the respective medical teams will guarantee the operation of two Emergency and Resuscitation Medical Vehicles (VMER)“.

INEM stresses that the helicopters will remain “100 per cent operational during the day”, and although ‘not ideal’, the situation still assures “necessary responses to users” (meaning the people who need emergency medical transport).

Luís Meira made a point of stressing that helicopter missions at night account for only 20% – 25% of cases, and the vast majority of these are inter-hospital transport situations.

“In terms of helicopter activity, each one has 0.6 to 0.7 services per day. At night, the ratio is even lower,” he told Lusa.

As to the reasons for this break in 24-hour activity, the INEM statement refers to “the result of the fact that, in a market consultation, the institute only received two responses (to the 2024 State tender) – one of which “presented values above the limits, and the other (…) said it could only maintain two helicopters 24-hours a day”.

The ‘winning response’ was provided by Spanish company Avincis Aviation Portugal, which is locked in a labour dispute with its pilots – hence the impossibility of 24-hour cover in four aircraft.

As to the reason for Meira’s assurances that four INEM helicopters will be back in full operation within six months, this lies in the fact that INEM is launching an international tender (in the hope that another company will come forwards, able to assure ‘normal service’ and potentially pay its pilots what they are legally entitled to…).

Meira told Lusa, right now, response is what is possible, “service cannot be at any price”.

The annual budget for INEM emergency rescue helicopters has “gone from €7.5 million per year to €12 million”, he said. ND

Source material: SIC