Air ambulance begins night rescue service

Dr Malcolm Russell
Dr Malcolm Russell

Sussex became a safer county just before Christmas when life-saving charity, the county’s air ambulance became the first in the country to launch a 24-hour Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) following three years of research and preparatory work.

Unlike the rest of Europe the service was only able to fly by daylight so operated between 7am-7pm with two specialised medical teams deploying in two helicopters. The teams attended about 1,500 missions and treated about 1,000 patients each year.

But operators were aware there was a clear indication of patient need by night with between 400 and 500 patients per year in the 3,500 square miles covered by the air ambulance, which also serves Surrey and Kent. About half were between 11pm and 5am.

It was not possible to attend so many by car so a centrally located helicopter and medical team was clearly needed.

After a 2012 change in CAA regulations the charity replaced one of its older MD902 helicopters with a night-capable MD902 which now operates from Redhill Aerodrome throughout the night. The service is operated by two pilots to ensure the safest and most reliable service for patients and crew alike.

Trust chairman Anthony Monteuis said: “This is a hugely expensive step and we have taken the greatest care to devise a service that is as robust and as safe as possible for everyone flying in the helicopter whether it’s the patients or crew.

“Local people are better served from this moment forward than they have been in the past.”

Chief executive Adrian Bell said: “Our focus is on getting highly-skilled teams, with their time-critical interventions, to the patient as quickly and safely as possible not only to save life but also to improve the quality of survival. None of what we do would be possible without public support.

“There are many patients alive and well today, living with their families and amongst their friends who would not be there without the public’s generous support and I would like to thank them on behalf of the charity, and all the patients we attend and treat, for their kindness and thoughtfulness.”

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