The UK’s air ambulance community has bestowed its highest honour, a lifetime achievement award, upon Wales Air Ambulance (WAA) Chief Executive Officer Angela Hughes.

The Association of Air Ambulances (AAA) presented the prestigious accolade to Angela during a star-studded event held at the Millennium Chelsea Harbour Hotel, London, earlier this week. It was hosted by TV presenters Richard Madeley and Angelica Bell.

The Lifetime Achievement award recognises those who have made a lifetime contribution to the world of air ambulance operations and have demonstrated personal passion for the sector. It honours individuals who have changed the course of events for an air ambulance charity for the better.

Responding to the announcement, Angela said: “It is an absolute privilege to be acknowledged in this way by the AAA. This award recognises the vital work of WAA and the people who make it work - seven days a week and 365 days a year. That includes the unbelievable generosity of the Welsh public, our skilful medics and pilots, and the Charity’s dedicated staff, trustees and volunteers, who are committed to our aim of saving time and saving lives.

“As a result of this continued support, last month we surpassed 30,000 missions since our inception in 2001. To everybody who contributes to our service, I offer my wholehearted thanks.

“This award is also a testament to the late Bob Palmer, founder and former chairman of WAA. It was his vision of an air ambulance service for Wales that has led us to where we are today.”

Angela was the first WAA employee appointed by the Board of Trustees and it was her responsibility to establish WAA as an all-Wales charity. There was no business plan, no other staff and limited funds. Angela’s first target was to raise £1 million for the Charity’s one helicopter based in Swansea, with just her car and phone.

Angela immediately began working within Wales’ diverse communities, reaching people on a local scale. This was to be a service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales.

From Angela’s initial fundraising target seventeen years ago, WAA now raises the £6.5m needed every year to maintain the current helicopter operation. The Charity now has four helicopters based across Wales and is the largest air ambulance operation in the UK.

Over the years, she has led a Charity that has raised more than £95 million in a country with a population of just three million.

WAA now has more than 110 staff and 650 volunteers. They support its four offices, four airbases, a social enterprise café in North Wales (Café HEMS) and eighteen retail shops.

The Charity’s latest innovative development has seen it take over the lease of Cardiff Heliport. It is believed to be the first time an air ambulance charity has taken operational control of a commercial heliport. All profits made will support WAA’s charitable mission of saving lives. The operation will be run through Wales Air Ambulance Trading Ltd for a clear distinction between trading and charitable funds.

With the ongoing and radical transformation of pre-hospital care in Wales, NHS and government leaders have spoken about WAA being an integral part of their future strategies.

As CEO, Angela strives to develop the air ambulance operation and to find cutting-edge ways of helping patients. She has facilitated a pioneering programme of healthcare in Wales called the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS) – also known as the ‘Welsh Flying Medics’. Working in partnership with Welsh Government ministers, NHS Wales and a pool of passionate doctors, the Charity now has a dedicated team of senior consultants, critical care practitioners (CCPs) and helicopter transfer practitioners (HTPs) onboard its helicopters. This includes the introduction of A&E-standard equipment and drugs, and four different types of blood and blood products.

Around 400 WAA missions per year involve paediatrics and the Charity has successfully established the national Children’s Wales Air Ambulance – its fourth aircraft. This service includes unique advanced incubator systems, design by WAA with NHS specialists and experts in Switzerland, which are electronically heated and oxygenated.

Professor David Lockey, National Director of the Welsh Flying Medics, said: “This is worthy recognition for Angela. Without her passion, drive and commitment, Wales would not have an air ambulance operation. The service has benefited many lives over the past seventeen years and is now the largest and one of the most advanced in the UK. Angela and the people of Wales have an air ambulance service they can be proud of.”