A 24/7 Air Ambulance Service for Wales

From 1 December 2020, the Wales Air Ambulance Charity will introduce a helicopter that will operate overnight, seven days a week. This means that Wales now has a 24/7 air ambulance operation. 

It has always been the vision of the Wales Air Ambulance to offer a 24/7 service. The new service will ensure that pre-hospital critical care is available Wales-wide 24 hours a day.

To deliver a 24/7 service we need to raise £11.2 million every year. With your support, we can maintain a 24/7 service.

Our vision has become a reality:

Published: Monday 30 November 2020

The Wales Air Ambulance has achieved its ambition to become a 24/7 service thanks to the donations from the people of Wales. 

The Charity, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2021, will start operating an overnight helicopter from Tuesday, 1 December. 

The cost of running the helicopters during the day currently stands at £6.5 million every year. To maintain the overnight helicopter, Wales Air Ambulance must raise an additional £1.5 million, bringing the annual fundraising total required for a 24/7 operation to £8 million. 

While the helicopter operation is supported by the people of Wales through charitable donations to the Wales Air Ambulance, the medical capability on board the aircraft is delivered thanks to a unique Third Sector-Public Sector partnership between the Charity, Welsh Government and NHS Wales. In place since 2015, this collaboration resulted in the creation of the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS Cymru), more commonly known as the ‘Welsh Flying Medics’, which provides pioneering pre-hospital critical and emergency medical care across Wales. The aviation part of the service is run by Babcock Mission Critical Services Onshore on behalf of the Wales Air Ambulance. 

The Service, which effectively takes the emergency room to the patients, is made up of senior NHS Wales doctors and critical care practitioners who can deliver critical emergency treatments not routinely available outside the hospital environment. They include surgical procedures, blood transfusions and emergency anaesthesia.  

The need for an overnight Wales Air Ambulance was identified following detailed research into life or limb-threatening emergencies that took place outside the services’ operational hours of 8am to 8pm. Over a 12-month period, there were approximately 990 cases of ‘unmet need’ and the demand was most prevalent in South-East Wales. 

While plans for the introduction of the overnight aircraft were being finalised, a road-based consultant and critical care practitioner have been operating between 7pm and 7am every night from the Charity’s Cardiff Heliport based since July 2020. From 1 December, they will be joined by a double pilot crew, allowing them to cover the whole of Wales. 

Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething, said: “I am delighted the Wales Air Ambulance Service has achieved its ambition to become a 24/7 service. The introduction of the overnight helicopter will provide emergency air cover to more people who have a clinical need for immediate treatment across Wales. 

 “It has been a pleasure to see the charity go from strength to strength since its launch on St David’s Day in 2001.  The work of the charity and its’ hardworking staff and volunteers has helped Wales to lead the way in best practice, clinical excellence and innovation and contributed to the charity becoming the largest air ambulance operation in the UK.” 

WAA Chairman, David Gilbert OBE said: “At the start of the year, we said that our aim was to deliver an overnight helicopter by the end of 2020. There have been many years of planning and preparation with our NHS and aviation partners to make it a reality. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we felt it was more important than ever to provide the people of Wales with a 24/7 lifesaving service.  

In 2021, the Charity will mark 20 years of service and what better way to acknowledge that milestone than the introduction of a 24/7 air ambulance operation. This has been two decades in the making and we would not be here without the people of Wales and their incredible generosity, as well as our staff and volunteers.  

“Times are extremely difficult for everybody, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received. We appreciate that some people may not be able to continue their support at the moment, but for those who can, together we can ensure that we maintain a 24/7 service and save lives. 

Professor David Lockey, EMRTS National Director, said: “The ED-standard care we deliver at the roadside improves the chances of survival and long-term recovery from trauma and critical illness. Our aim has always been to deliver equity of access to this advanced pre-hospital critical care across Wales, regardless of location or time of day. Our research has shown that there is a need for an extended air ambulance service overnight and we have already experienced this demand since the introduction of our overnight road-based service in July this year. 

“This phase of our 24/7 expansion, the introduction of a Wales Air Ambulance Charity helicopter, is a huge step forward for both our service, and for pre-hospital care in Wales. This has been made possible thanks to the ongoing work and partnership between the public and third sectors, as well as the people of Wales who support the Charity.” 

For more information and for ways to support the Wales Air Ambulance Charity, please visit www.walesairambulance.com/247