The Helicopter Air Ambulance – When Speed is Of The Essence…

The golden hour is the 60 minutes following a medical episode when a patient in the balance between life and death could live or die. Life threatening accidents and medical emergencies can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time. In the UK the vast majority of serious cases are dealt with by helicopter air ambulance. Their speed makes the difference.

In December 2001 Sophie, Countess of Wessex was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy requiring emergency surgery. She was flown from her home in Surrey to London’s King Edward V11 hospital for emergency surgery.

A few weeks ago Sophie went back to Thames Valley Air Ambulance to help them mark their 21st anniversary and again thanked them for the part they played in saving her life.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex with crew from the Thames Valley Air Ambulance service

There are 22 Emergency Air Ambulance services in the UK. Every single one relies entirely on charitable donations to operate. The Yorkshire Air Ambulance is one.

In our county we need two helicopters as there are famously more acres of land here than there are words in the Bible. Five million people served across four million acres keeps them busy.

The Midlands air ambulance has three due to their population density and they answer on average six calls a day.

The latest 2018 statistics for the London Air Ambulance make sobering reading. Due to their specialist nature, each medical chopper currently costs £6 million. Running costs including pilots, medics, training, maintenance, fuel and back-up amount to a mind boggling £6000 a DAY to keep each one flying – but they’re ready 24/7, 365.

Yorkshire’s Air Ambulance’s latest addition of night vision goggles makes a huge difference to the crew. At my police station we run a tuck shop to raise funds for them. Today we received a YAA certificate to show we’d raised over a thousand pounds in about 18 months. One emergency service supporting another in a time when the public need us most. It’s now pinned proudly next to the chocolate, crisps and soup cans.

You might be critical of what police officers use for fuel. If you knew what they had to deal with you might not. Our Helpdesk supplies them with what they need to get through. Full fat coke is our biggest seller. Six teaspoons of sugar in a can might be bad for the waistline when you’re sat doing nothing. But if you’re jumping over fences chasing baddies or wrestling on the floor with idiots?

Young PC’s sit in their response room or cars waiting for the call, tooled up, trained and ready. Their lives filled with boredom, action, danger, arrests and nervous court appearances to pay their bills.  Occasionally someone is killed in the line of duty. The press get hold of it and their daily working lives gets the oxygen of publicity. Then it goes away. But we don’t forget. That’s why I give my total backing to “Andrew’s Law.” Risking yourself in the execution of duty when you have loved ones is what our armed forces and emergency services sign up for. But they do not deserve to die doing it. That’s why we collect to show our support.   

Despite everything we’re all going through and the country now being £2 trillion in debt, lots of people are still quietly chipping in their pennies like this. Consequently YAA has been able to buy two new H145 Airbus Helicopters. This means people are alive today who would have died without these machines and the amazing people behind them.

Yet the government/tax payer contribution is zero. Nothing.

This has always confused me. Surely teams using helicopters, lifeboats and mountain rescue skills should be funded through the public purse. Why should they have to go cap in hand for charitable donations to save lives?

Given the current circumstances this will not change anytime soon. So we count brass coins, 5p’s and bags of 50p’s. Then I sit in traffic going to the bank. Have you ever tried to change coins for notes at a bank? They don’t like it. They insist you have an account before they’ll do it. Why? Because it’s labour intensive I suppose.

Emergency services have never been more underfunded but despite this interest in joining the front line has never been greater. Want to protect someone? Join the queue.

Whenever recruitment opens in our force, there’s a flood of young people who want to join. It’s why Prince William became a helicopter pilot in Anglesey. He absolutely loved it. Were it not for dedication to his family and his role as future King I’m certain he’d jump at the chance to go back. 

Despite some politicians’ ambition we are and will remain a United Kingdom. That is what we are and will always be. This relies on its subjects to support each other. To do this from the farthest part of northern Shetland to the southernmost tip of the Rock of Gibraltar, we rely on our Armed Forces and Emergency Services who wrote the book on sorting trouble.

This is why the commemoration of Remembrance Day each year in November is so important.

None of us like to see flashing blue lights in our rear view mirrors. All of us wonder about that yellow chopper dashing across the sky. Each siren makes you think. But here’s the positive message.

Unseen and on standby are people who have your back. Who shun publicity and spend their working lives training for the moment they need to save your life.

They’ll walk into a burning building. Spend months under water far from home. Take a bullet from a terrorist. Defuse a bomb. Run towards danger. Amongst them are the helimedics.

Perish the thought you’ll ever need one at your side. But it’s reassuring to know they exist because their dedication, along with charities and volunteers, makes it happen. Please give them your support.

More articles by Northern Male can be read here