A private air ambulance service has been put in place by the Health Service Executive for patients who need transport at night to another country for life-saving transplants.

Most of the patients involved are children, who need to go to the UK within eight hours, for heart or liver transplants.

The transfer of patients abroad for life-saving transplants is a rare event, with an average of five cases a year since 2012.

A report published today from the health watchdog HIQA, says there has been no dedicated air ambulance service in Ireland for so-called 'Priority 1' transfers.

It recommended to Government that a private service be set up as an immediate measure.

Transfers have mainly been provided by the Air Corps or the Irish Coast Guard.

However, HIQA said that from last week, neither the Air Corps, nor the Coast Guard were available to carry out night-time transfers, due to capacity or regulatory requirements.

The HSE has put in place a private operator to ensure a 24-hour service.

The fixed-wing air ambulance service is being provided by Capital Air Ambulance in the UK.

It will travel here when necessary to transfer patients to the UK for transplant operations.

The cost of the interim service has not been disclosed.

Up to the end of last month, three Irish children were actively waiting for a transplant in the UK.