To fly or not to fly, that is the questionApril 6, 2022
Mission Support Centre UpdateApril 19, 2022
Great Western Air Ambulance Charity is known and recognised by its green and blue helicopter, Helimed 65. But did you know that we also attend incidents by car?
In fact, when we first set up in 2007, we were only operational with two critical care cars from a room at the Central Ambulance Station in Bristol. It wasn’t until 2008 that we got our first helicopter.
When we attend an incident by car, we provide the same level of expertise at the scene with the same advanced medical equipment that is found on our helicopter. Our crew will then treat the patient at the scene, before taking them to hospital in a land ambulance, where they are able to monitor them throughout the journey. From emergency blood transfusions to roadside amputations or treating cardiac arrests, they deal with the most serious incidents, where people’s lives are at risk. Both the helicopter and critical care cars carry lifesaving medical equipment on board, including ventilators and advanced drugs that are not carried on a land ambulance.
As many of our missions are in urban areas, the car is often the quickest way to reach the patient. One car is also used as a support car, making sure the crew are always mobilised and ready to deal with an emergency whenever it arises. In instances where a patient needs transporting to hospital, the air ambulance crew will accompany them in a land ambulance whilst continuing their critical care en route. Having critical care cars also enables the team to respond to incidents in all weather conditions, when the helicopter may be unsafe to fly in.
Our original two cars were funded by The Southwest Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust. In 2020 our fleet was upgraded to three new critical care cars provided by ŠKODA. The ŠKODA Kodiaq underwent a bespoke conversation to meet Great Western Air Ambulance Charity’s individual needs. Its 720-litre boot capacity has been fully redesigned to effectively house all of the lifesaving equipment such as oxygen tanks and ventilators. The vehicle’s infotainment system has also been moved to allow for a 999-response screen to be installed, providing the on-board crew with details of each emergency and the quickest route to the scene. Aesthetic finishing touches to the vehicle, all provided by ŠKODA’s approved convertor Halls Electrical Ltd, include a bespoke air ambulance livery and lighting system so that the vehicle is clearly identifiable.
Former Air Operations Officer at GWAAC, John Wood, said: “Having reliable, appropriate and fully equipped cars are essential for us to reach and treat patients in the most effective way. The new vehicles will enable our team to negotiate tougher terrain and drive safely in challenging weather conditions to reach patients quickly and safely, particularly in rural areas.” The ŠKODA Kodiaq SE L 2.0-litre TDI is a perfect addition to our fleet that does exactly this! Day-to-day, the Critical Care Team benefit from the car’s broad and flexible capabilities, including a 0-62mph in little over eight seconds, class-leading interior space and 4x4 capability, ensuring they can reach the scene of almost any incident quickly and with the essential equipment needed. The cars allow our Critical Care Team to negotiate the tougher terrain across the region and ensures they can deliver the necessary lifesaving care to patients in any conditions. For example when the helicopter is unable to fly due to bad weather or maintenance, or when the location of a patient has limited safe landing sites nearby and is easier to access by road.
At GWAAC our crew respond to over five critically ill patients a day on average, many by critical care car. Despite this, a survey carried out by GWAAC showed that 66% of people living in our region didn’t expect or didn’t know that we responded by car as well as helicopter. In 2021 GWAAC received 1,964 callouts which makes it our second busiest year to date (compared to 2019, with 2,001 call outs, which was our busiest year). Over half of our critical care car missions were to incidents in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
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"Having reliable, appropriate and fully equipped cars are essential for us to reach and treat patients in the most effective way. The new vehicles will enable our team to negotiate tougher terrain and drive safely in challenging weather conditions to reach patients quickly and safely, particularly in rural areas.”