The HELP Appeal, which improves helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) by funding the construction of new or upgraded hospital and air ambulance helipads, has announced there have been 15,500 landings on the NHS hospital helipads it has funded across the country.
Since the charity’s creation in 2009, it has donated £20 million towards 39 new or upgraded helipads, of which 32 have been NHS hospital helipads – including 17 based at Major Trauma Centres – and six air ambulance helipads. The cost of planned helipad projects equates to £50.75 million so far.
This year alone, despite the pandemic, new helipads funded by the charity opened at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, Hull Royal Infirmary and Hereford County Hospital.
New helipads at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton; Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust; Airedale General Hospital, Keighley; Campbeltown Hospital, Worcester Hospital, Luton & Dunstable Hospital and Sheffield Children’s Hospital are planned to open within the next year or two.
The charity is also currently funding improvements to existing helipads at University Hospital Coventry; University Hospital Crosshouse, Kilmarnock; Carlise Hospital, and Peterborough City Hospital, which will open this year.
The HELP Appeal expanded into Scotland in 2015, to fund nine hospital helipads including the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and Raigmore Hospital, Inverness with another three in the pipeline. It also provided £200,000 over a four-year period to the Scottish Air Ambulance Service to fund replacement secondary landing sites throughout Scotland.
The charity pioneered the introduction and funding of Deck Integrated Fire Fighting System (DIFFS) on five rooftop helipads across the country including King’s College Hospital and St George’s hospital, with three more planned, which save each NHS hospital around £250,000 every year in firefighting costs.
It has also funded helipads at brand new air bases for several air ambulances, including the Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance; Midlands Air Ambulance Charity; Wiltshire Air Ambulance; Great Western Air Ambulance; Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance and London Air Ambulance; and is funding helipads for Lincs & Notts Air Ambulance in 2020 and Great North Air Ambulance.
The HELP Appeal also funded lifesaving equipment for the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity (MAAC) and two Critical Care Cars in partnership with MAAC, with a third car launching in 2020. It has also provided life-saving funding for the British Association for Immediate Care (BASICS) annually since 2019.
Robert Bertram, Chief Executive of the HELP Appeal says: “Over 10 years ago, hospital helipad facilities were severely lacking, yet finance for hospitals was tight. There was little doubt that if we didn’t offer non-repayable funds towards the cost of helipads, hospitals would struggle to ever have one, despite emergency medics saying they were desperately needed to save time and save lives.
“Today, finance for hospitals remains tight, but the demand for our helipad grants continues to grow and we are recognised as the only charity in the country dedicated to funding hospital helipads.”
Of the 15,500 landings, critically ill patients like 12-year-old George are alive and recovering well from their illness or injury, because the helipads they landed on were built beside the Emergency Department.
George, who is 12 years old, was walking to school when he was hit by a motorbike at speed. He was flown to St George’s hospital helipad in 22 mins from Ashford in Surrey, a journey that would have taken one hour by road.
Caroline, George’s mother, was at home when she received the news. She said: “George and I always walked to school together. This was the first time that he was going off by himself.
“I was just waiting for my boys to come home, when I got a knock on the door. The lady said to me, your son has been in a road accident. As I walked round, I was so shocked. The road had been closed off, there were three police cars, an ambulance and George was in the middle of the road.”
“When I went up to him at the scene, I didn’t know what to say to him. At the roadside, I just felt so guilty that he was on his own when this had happened to him.”
HEMS doctor Sarah was at the scene: “If a fracture is open, like George’s was, that means that there’s also damage to the skin. If the fracture is displaced the bone may be facing in the wrong direction, which may affect blood supply, cause nerve damage and could be a lymph threatening injury.
“It’s really important to reduce that risk, by putting it back into the position it was in before it broke. What we can provide is good pain relief, immediate reduction and emergency interventions, but what the patient actually needs is an orthopaedic surgeon and a theatre and it’s important we get the patient to this as quickly as possible. “
This is why George was flown directly to St George’s hospital helipad which has immediate access to the Emergency Department.
Caroline adds: “The helipad’s location made the process of getting to A&E as stress free as possible. This was important as it was a very stressful time for us. The alternative of landing anywhere else and being transported to hospital by vehicle would have taken longer and added to the strain.”
St George’s orthopaedic registrar explains the danger behind George breaking his tibia (shin bone): “Children’s veins are different from adult’s veins. They have a weak spot and that’s the growth plate and it’s particularly vulnerable to injury. If the growth plate is damaged too much, the vein in that region will stop growing all together. This can result in lifelong disablement.”
Caroline also adds: “With regards to George’s treatment the consultant said that it was important to get George to theatre as soon as possible.”
Fortunately, surgeons were able to perform emergency surgery on George to repair his growth plate. He stayed in for two more nights as he was in a lot of pain and Caroline stayed by his side the whole time.
Three months after the accident George says: “My legs feel good at the moment. It just felt good to start walking again. My mum is probably one of the most important people to me and I love her so much.”
Caroline adds: “George has recovered well and is back to normal. The doctors are seeing him every six months to check for any growth plate issues.
“Thank you to the air ambulance service for their help and support. He received first class treatment and for that we are extremely appreciative.
“Also, having the helipad at the hospital made it possible for George to receive the best treatment in the quickest time possible. We will truly be forever grateful for this.”
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