Wales Air Ambulance shake-up could see two lifesaving helicopters based in North Wales
An air ambulance base could be closed in Powys and moved to north Wales after in-depth analysis showed lifesaving helicopters could attend hundreds more missions across Wales every year.
The Wales Air Ambulance charity said the analysis – claimed to be one of the most comprehensive conducted by any air ambulance service in the world – shows that with a reconfiguration of bases and shift patterns the service could attend up to 583 additional missions every year.
The service’s current aviation contract is up for renewal, which it said presents the charity with a “once-in-a-decade opportunity.”
It is also expected that aviation costs will rise by up to 30% due to an increase in the price of goods and services.
At present, Wales Air Ambulance meets 72% of the total demand for its service, which could rise to 88%.
Every county of Wales will see an increase in missions attended, the charity said.
For people in north Wales, the changes would mean the service could attend nearly 60 more missions every year.
Analysis has found there are still people across Wales that the service is unable to attend, despite helicopters and rapid response vehicles with highly skilled clinicians “are underused.”
Data modelling suggests the most beneficial and efficient service delivery model for Wales would be to move the Welshpool crews – including aircraft and rapid response vehicles – and co-locate them with the north Wales operation.
“Two helicopters, two crews, one location. The location in north Wales is subject to further analysis,” the charity said.
The north Wales base would operate extended hours with an 8am until 8pm crew and a 2pm until 2am crew.
The two crews in question currently operate 12 hours but this could increase to 18 hours, covering the peak periods of demand.
“Patients in north Wales, Powys and Ceredigion with life or limb-threatening illness or injuries after 8pm will have a more localised response rather than needing the busy Cardiff-based overnight crew,” Wales Air Ambulance said.
Other recommendations include ensuring aircraft are not scheduled for maintenance during peak times such as summer which is currently outside the charity’s control.
Day-time helicopters would also need to become night-vision capable allowing them to operate in the hours of darkness, particularly during winter months with shorter daylight hour
Dr Sue Barnes, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Through the trust that the public has placed in us over the past 21 years, we have been able to evolve into one of the most advanced air ambulance operations in Europe.
“We have a track record of making decisions with patients and their families at our heart.
“It’s important to remember that we go to the patient, the patient doesn’t come to us. There is strong evidence that says the whole of north Wales, as well as every other part of Wales, will benefit from the proposed changes.
“We now operate via road as well as air. This is vital when aircraft are grounded for technical reasons or when flying conditions are poor.
“Current locations mean that patients in north and mid Wales suffer from a lack of this alternative provision as a result of poor road access – unlike their counterparts in south Wales.
“Also, our current aviation contract is up for renewal, presenting us with a once-in-a-decade opportunity to look at our current service provision.
“Any service enhancements identified would need to be included as a part of the contract with the successful bidder.
“Due to the current increase in the cost of goods and services, we are expecting a 30% increase in aviation costs, so it’s more important than ever that we are using public donations in the most efficient and effective way possible.”
The air ambulance service in Wales is run as partnership between the Wales Air Ambulance charity and NHS Wales.
They came together in 2015 to create the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS Cymru).
The service’s consultants and critical care practitioners can deliver innovative emergency treatment across Wales, including minor operations, blood transfusions and anaesthesia.
These were previously not available outside of a hospital environment.
While EMRTS Cymru supplies the medics, the Wales Air Ambulance charity currently needs to raise £8 million a year to fund the helicopters and rapid response vehicles.
Professor David Lockey, EMRTS national director and international authority on air ambulance operations, said: “From an NHS perspective we are delighted that the data suggests that with existing resources we can improve the coverage that the service provides to all regions in Wales.
“Increased utilisation of both helicopters and rapid response vehicles will enable us to attend hundreds more critically ill or injured patients when they most need us.
“The data clearly shows that we still have people across Wales that we are unable to attend, due to several factors, and at the same time, we have transport and clinicians who are underused in the current set up. That needs to change and this plan could deliver real benefits to our patients.
“This is a complex analysis but with clear results. We wholeheartedly welcome, and encourage, anybody who has a question to contact us directly so can we can offer more information on these findings.”
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