According to figures released today, 2018 was the busiest ever year for the Wales Air Ambulance Charity and its medics.

The Charity, which started operating in 2001, received 2828 calls during 2018. This is 274 more than 2017 and 450 more than 2016. 69% of the calls attended were by air and 31% by road in one of the services’ Rapid Response Vehicles. 50% of the incidents were medical-related while the remaining 50% were linked to trauma.

Further analysis reveals that 66% of patients were male and 34% female, while 13% of all patients treated were 17 years old or under.

At a cost of £6.5m per year, Wales Air Ambulance now runs four aircraft. These are based in Welshpool, Caernarfon, Dafen (Llanelli) and Cardiff. It is now the UK’s largest air ambulance operation that can be anywhere in Wales within twenty minutes.

The service is one of the most advanced in Europe. A unique Third Sector-Public Sector partnership between the Charity and NHS Wales has resulted in the creation of the consultant-led Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS Cymru), more commonly known as the ‘Welsh Flying Medics’. WAA now provides pioneering pre-hospital critical and emergency medical care across Wales – taking the emergency room to the patient.

Angela Hughes, Wales Air Ambulance Chief Executive, said: “Our service has become a vital part of the critical care landscape in Wales and this is demonstrated by the significant increase in calls over the past few years. Our unique partnership with the NHS and the incredible generosity of the Welsh public allows us to deliver the highest level of care to those in need.

“2019 will be another significant year for the Charity as we work with NHS colleagues to explore the option of an extended service.”

One of the first patients airlifted by the Charity last year was five-year-old Curtis Thompson. Curtis needed to travel from Carmarthenshire to Kings College Hospital in London for an urgent liver transplant. His transfer was against the clock and travel by air was his only option to make it on time.

Curtis’ Story

When Curtis was just three days old, the Thomson family were told that he had a rare liver condition. He was referred to specialists in Kings College Hospital in London where, at 19 days old, he underwent a 12-hour operation. During his surgery, it was found that he had no gall-bladder, three spleens, heart defects a twisted bowel and missing arteries and veins.

Curtis’ family were told that he would need a liver transplant but it was not clear when he would need this lifesaving treatment. Several years later and showing signs of chronic liver failure, the family received the news that Curtis would need a transplant very soon.

Curtis’ mother, Nikki, picks up the story: “At 7:30am on 3 January 2018, the phone rang. I knew it was them and was almost too terrified to answer. The voice on the phone said they had a suitable liver for Curtis and they wanted us to come to London immediately. As we frantically prepared for our trip we were called back and told that an ambulance was en-route and instead of taking us to London we would be driven straight to the Wales Air Ambulance.”

“It was a difficult goodbye to Curtis’ dad who had to stay home with his brothers Connor (14), Joshua (2) and Finley (11 months). As the risk of complications during surgery was so high, the family were told that he may not survive the operation. Curtis’ dad had to say goodbye not knowing if he would see his little boy again.”

Curtis and Nikki were taken to the Charity’s airbase in Dafen. Waiting for them was the Children’s Wales Air Ambulance, the Charity’s Cardiff-based aircraft dedicated to supporting the transfer of poorly babies and young children to lifesaving specialist care.

Nikki added: “When we arrived, the crew were there to meet us. Curtis was treated like

royalty. He was shown around the helicopter and was so excited – me not so much. The crew made him comfy with his teddy and a Wales Air Ambulance mascot toy. I was so impressed by how they treated him; they got down to his level and reassured us both. After a swift 60-minute flight we were on the helipad at Kings College hospital safely.”

On 4 January 2018, Curtis received his liver transplant and just under three weeks later, he was ready to leave hospital. His risk of infection was still high and to save his fragile body from the exertions of an extended journey by rail or road, the Children’s Wales Air Ambulance returned to London to bring him home.

A year on from his airborne experience, Curtis is now well enough to enjoy school and life at home with his three brothers.

Nikki said: “Curtis was given the gift of life. Without his liver donation and the service of the Wales Air Ambulance, Curtis would not be here doing all the normal things most people take for granted.

“I can honestly say that we could never repay Wales Air Ambulance for their help and kindness. They were so reassuring during a time when I was scared, and they provide such care and support to families just like us. We are forever in debt to them all.”