Friday 27th January
After our AGM John Crew came to speak to us about the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance Service. In a fascinating, well prepared and illustrated talk he explained how this amazing service works and what an outstanding example of team work and co-operation between various groups, public and private, paid and volunteer, it exemplifies.
Focusing first on the helicopter itself he said this is a Eurocopter EC135 and it is equipped to carry a single patient, a pilot, and a doctor or paramedic. It is now operating during daylight hours seven days a week and during the summer months it is called out through the normal 999 emergency Ambulance Service to attend some eight or nine incidents in a single day. During 2017 however the Eurocopter will be replaced by an Agusta Westland 169 which will be able to carry two patients, much more medical kit and will have the capacity to fly at night.
The first step in an incident is taken by a very experienced phone operator who needs to decide if the air ambulance is what is needed and which major trauma centre should be alerted to receive the patient for the best emergency care. Taking off from Hentsridge the helicopter is less than twenty minutes away from any spot in the two counties, and the same time away from any of the major trauma centres. The pilots and maintenance staff who operate from the airfield at Hentsridge, are employed by the company that leases the helicopter, Bond Air Services, and the pilots are specially selected and trained for their demanding role. The doctors are a mixture of senior emergency physicians, intensive care consultants and anesthetists from hospitals across our region. The highly trained paramedics are all seconded from and paid by the South West Ambulance Service. To serve with the unit either as doctor or paramedic is considered a special service and to get selected is highly competitive.
The cost of running and maintaining a helicopter and administering the whole service is very considerable. Operational costs are over £2 million year and the cost of each mission is approximately £2,500. There is now a network of air ambulance services covering the whole of England and Wales and they all receive no direct funding from the Government or the National Lottery and all rely entirely on the generosity of the public in their area for support. How badly our Dorset and Somerset service is needed is shown by the fact that since it was launched in March 2000 it has flown over 11,000 missions.
This means that the service needs the unremitting support of volunteers organsing fund raising events and the generosity of the public, for we should also bear in mind the fact that none of us know when we or members of our family may need this vital, often life-saving service. John Drew asked a simple question at the start of his talk. “How many of you have been personally touched by or know someone who has made use of this service?” We were all surprised when nearly a third of those present raised their hands. “That is what I usually find is the case.” John Drew remarked, quietly mentioning that his eight year old grandson would not be alive and well were it not for the swift and professional action of the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance Service.