The Essex and Herts Air Ambulance helicopters are a bright and welcome sight in our skies, with their red and yellow striped livery clearly marking their purpose. They turn up at the most potentially life-threatening incidents, laden with some of the most highly-skilled critical care doctors and paramedics available.
Seeing a helicopter land on local playing fields always creates a stir of concern in the community and on the local Facebook groups. On a visit to the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance HQ last week, I heard staff are frequently told by patients who have been airlifted to hospital that hearing the helicopter arriving was one of the most reassuring parts of a highly traumatic experience.
There’s been an air ambulance service in Essex for 22 years, and it’s now a joint service with Hertfordshire. The charity costs £9m a year to run, all funded by donations, fundraising events and a lottery. There’s currently a cap on how much charity-specific ‘society lotteries’ can offer as prizes, and last year’s consultation on raising this cap was something Air Ambulance CEA, Jane Gurney, wanted to raise with me.
I was able to tell her I recently met the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright, to discuss the issues and I got the impression he was not averse to an increase to the maximum lottery prize. The Government wants to protect the unique position of the UK-wide National Lottery, which has raised over £38 billion for good causes since it started in 1994, but its full position on the consultation outcome should be set out before the summer recess.
Clearly, running two medical helicopters is never going to be cheap. The critical care doctors and paramedics are backed up by a team of highly skilled pilots, fundraisers, administrators and, most recently, two patient liaison managers who keep in touch with the patients and their families to help them work through the aftermath of sometimes life-changing accidents. The medics are also offered extensive mental health and well-being support to help them cope with the most difficult incidents.
There’s more to be done to make the air ambulance service more effective too – not least the need for large hospitals to have easily accessible, 24-hour helipads. Some have them on the roof, so a critically ill patient is just a lift-ride away from hospital care on arrival, but at other hospitals a land ambulance needs to be deployed to transfer the patient from helicopter to hospital.
This is a remarkable group of people doing an extraordinary job. I’m still amazed that - like the lifeboats - they survive off charitable donations. You can read more about their work here https://www.ehaat.org/about-us/