More lives will be saved across the eastern region now that a dedicated air ambulance has made history and been granted permission to fly helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) missions at night.
Following 18 months of demanding hard work from the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) and its aircraft operator Bond Air Services, the Charity can now begin flying to incidents which occur during the hours of darkness using Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), the first dedicated air ambulance in England and Wales to be allowed to do so.
Tim Page, Chief Executive of EAAA, said: “We are all extremely proud to be able to say that EAAA is the first dedicated air ambulance in the country to be granted permission to fly at night but, above all, this is great news for the people of East Anglia as there is evidence to say that this development in operations will mean that more lives will be saved across the region.”
The Charity believes that it will be able to attend around 30% more missions, helping an estimated 300 more patients a year now it is able to operate in the dark as well as daylight hours.
Mr Page continued: “It has been a concern of the Charity for a long time that patients who become ill or injured during daylight hours have been able to benefit from a service which has not been available to those who are involved in incidents and accidents in the dark. Many people have worked hard to eradicate this problem and we are all incredibly happy that, no matter when someone needs an air ambulance, the Charity will be available to help them.”
EAAA is sent to incidents by the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) who has the responsibility of deploying the air ambulance to patients which need assistance from the highly skilled crews aboard the aircraft. The ability to be able to send these expert teams to incidents which occur at night, as well as during the day, is going to be of great benefit to the service as, Dr Scott Turner, Deputy Medical Director at EEAST, explains: “A commonly used phrase in the ambulance service is “getting the right resource, to the right patient, in the right time frame, every time”.
“Our air ambulances provide a highly skilled clinical team to our most critically ill and injured patients. Their skills complement those provided by our highly dedicated road staff. A few minutes can make a huge difference to some of these patients with problems such as an on-going bleed around the brain. The ability to get the lifesaving skills of these teams to where they are needed in the dark as well as the day can only be of benefit to the patient. The helicopter will also, where appropriate, be able to transport the patient to the right hospital to treat their life threatening problem. Decreasing the time before a patient receives definitive care, such as releasing the pressure on the brain and stopping the bleeding, can have significant benefits for the patient.”
Flying at night means that the Charity will now be able to operate in the dark in the same way that it does during day light hours. It will be able to fly to the incident and land close by, treat patients at the scene and convey them to the most appropriate hospital for their needs aboard the aircraft if required; something not being done by any other air ambulance in the country.
The process began back in 2011 when Bond Flight Operations Team submitted a safety case to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requesting permission to undertake HEMS missions at night using NVIS. Since then, the EAAA has worked with the CAA, Bond and EEAST to ensure that both the aircraft and crew are ready for the UK’s first night time HEMS missions; a process which is extremely different to operating during daylight hours. Underpinning this significant advancement in air ambulance services is Bond’s commitment to delivering the highest levels of safety in the specification of equipment, procedures and training. These form the core elements of their ‘MissionSafe’ focus.
In order to operate at night, the aircraft is specified with an instrumentation system and external lighting compatible with Night Vision Goggles (NVGs). The first step of this process was to install various items of special equipment (including moving maps, engine Usage Monitoring System and a Powerline Detection System) on the aircraft, and to modify standard items of equipment to make them NVIS compatible.
Once specified, the aircraft, its systems and the operating procedures required full certification by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) and the CAA before the aircraft could undertake night HEMS missions. Bond also undertook extensive training for both the pilots and the HEMS crew members who will undertake missions using NVGs.
Chris Greenhill, Managing Director, Bond Air Services said: “We are delighted to be the first UK air ambulance operator to have received both European and CAA certification to operate night HEMS flights. To achieve this we drew on extensive in-house expertise at Bond, as well as the experience from other Avincis Group companies operating night HEMS flights across southern Europe”.
Mr Greenhill continued: “Clearly the focus on safety is paramount and we believe that the design of the aircraft, its systems and our operating procedures coupled with a rigorous training schedule will ensure that we can undertake these missions safely at night”.
The vision of flying at night has been supported by those at Cambridge Airport and the Marshall Group who have accommodated the Charity over the last two and a half years. Terry Holloway, Group Support Executive for Marshall of Cambridge said: “We strongly support the EAAA and we are thrilled with their new night time capability. We look forward to the extension of their valuable life-saving service.”
Ultimately, the Charity’s ability to help more people who need emergency medical care is down to one group of people as Peter Rosenvinge, Director of Fundraising for EAAA, explains: “This is a remarkable achievement for the East Anglian Air Ambulance and will mean that the Charity is able to help many more people who fall ill or are injured in this part of the country. While there are many people behind the scenes who have worked tirelessly to get to this point, the Charity is only able to embark on night missions thanks to the generous support of the public who fund the service. EAAA can’t possibly thank them enough for everything they have done. Because of them, more lives will be saved.”
Later this year, the Charity will take delivery of a further night capable helicopter which is slightly larger than the one currently in operation and will allow the Charity to carry up to two patients if required. The current night capable helicopter based at Cambridge Airport will be relocated to Norwich Airport, giving the Charity the option of operating two helicopters at night should the service be required.
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