Published: 19 December 2023

While many of us will be spending Christmas Day tucking into the turkey and enjoying a festive tipple with family and friends, many of the frontline staff on board Wales Air Ambulance will be spending their day working.    

For the Wales Air Ambulance, Christmas is very much a “normal day” at work, but with an extra bit of festive sparkle and camaraderie. 

The crew will be waiting in the wings to help those in need across Wales and will do all that they can to turn what might be the worst day of somebody’s life into a better outcome.
The all-Wales Charity needs to raise £11.2 million every year to keep its helicopters in the air and rapid response vehicles on the road all over Wales, 24/7 – even on Christmas Day.   

The service is delivered via a unique Third Sector and Public Sector partnership.  The Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS) supplies highly skilled NHS consultants and critical care practitioners who work on board the Charity’s vehicles. 

We have spoken to the Wales Air Ambulance’s Christmas heroes, who will be based in Cardiff, Caernarfon, Welshpool, and Dafen, about what it is like to work for the Charity over Christmas, how they manage to juggle family life combined with working and how rewarding they find their job, especially over the festive period. 

“We always ensure that it is still a special one and we make the very best of it however we can.”

Carl Hudson 
Critical Care Paramedic/Practitioner working onboard the Wales Air Ambulance.
Working: Caernarfon

The dad of two is in his 30th year of frontline NHS Service, spending more than 20 years of service working for the Wales Air Ambulance. He is based at the Caernarfon base having started there at the beginning of the North Wales Operations in 2003.

He has worked many Christmas Day’s helping to serve the people of Wales and says there is always a good atmosphere amongst colleagues. 

Carl, 49, of Anglesey, said: “Having been a frontline paramedic for pretty much my entire adult life, working Christmas Day is very much an accepted part of working life for me.

Over the years, I have worked many Christmas Days, and although anyone would much rather be at home with their family than in work on Christmas Day, it’s really not at all bad. Due to the long hours that we work, it’s often the case that you actually see more of your work colleagues than you do of your family, so your colleagues are very much considered as your ‘work family’.

“We have a great team. Most days there’s plenty of laughs and camaraderie to be had, and Christmas Day is certainly no exception. Add into that a few silly little gifts that we buy for each of the Christmas Day crew, a decent selection of tasty treats, and usually a Christmas dinner that has kindly been provided for us, often by a local cafe or restaurant, and the day becomes as similar to a day at home as we can make it - the only exception being that the wine and champagne at dinner is swapped out for blackcurrant squash and Shloer, but you can’t have everything!

“Invariably, in this line of work, there are some incredibly sad cases that we attend to, even on Christmas Day, and these events resonate with the crew even more so at this time of the year, especially as we think of those affected. Once back on base, the team will often then de-brief the incident, usually with a cup of tea, and then we try our best to set it aside, so that we may be ready for whatever comes next.

“This year, for my family and I, Christmas Day will be pushed into Boxing Day, which will become our Christmas Day instead. In this line of work, it is accepted by your family that your Christmas family dinner is very much a moveable feast!

“When my children were younger, we would get everyone up very early, actually, ridiculously early, 4.30am, so that we could open presents with the children and have some quality time to spend with them before heading off out to work for 12 hours. 

“Nowadays, my children have all grown up and are in their twenties and will be home from university, so we shall open our presents when I return home from work on Christmas Day around 9pm, so those very early starts are no longer required. Thank goodness!

“I’d say that although being at home on Christmas Day is preferable, we accept that in our career, working it is just part and parcel of the job, and it’s ‘just another day’. However, we always ensure that it is still a special one and we make the very best of it.

“Hopefully, we will not be needed on the big day, because that means that everyone is safe and well. However, if we do attend an incident, although we may go home with a few remnants of the day in our minds, we will go home knowing that we have helped someone when they most needed it and provided the very best care possible. I wish everyone a safe, healthy and very happy Christmas and New Year, Nadolig Llawen!” 

“Knowing I am there to hopefully save someone’s life is rewarding all year around but more so at Christmas time."

Corey Mead
Critical Care Practitioner 
Working: Critical Care Hub in Ambulance Control in Cwmbran

Corey, aged 26, of Mountain Ash, has been working for the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS) onboard Wales Air Ambulance for two years after joining the service in January 2022. This will be his first year working for the Charity on Christmas Day. 

A Critical Care Practitioner’s (CCP’s) shifts are split between working onboard the Wales Air Ambulance and in the EMRTS Critical Care Hub, based in Ambulance Control in Cwmbran. Corey will be monitoring every 999-call made in Wales and will identify which of those requires advanced critical care.
He said: “I will be working Christmas Day from 7am to 7pm at the Critical Care Cub in Ambulance Control in Cwmbran, monitoring the 999 calls that come through.   

“I usually volunteer to work at Christmas. I am not married or have children, whereas my colleagues do. I’d rather work to enable them to spend time with their families on Christmas Day.

“When I was a paramedic, I worked nearly every Christmas from the time I joined the Ambulance Service at 18 years old. I did have last year off but it has become part and parcel of my job.  

“If I wasn’t working on Christmas Day, I would be at my mum’s house having Christmas dinner with my stepdad and my brother and would probably stay at hers for a few days while visiting other family members. My brother also works for the emergency services and is a 999-call handler in the Ambulance Service is working also. My mum is used to us working at Christmas now! 

“This year, Christmas Day will be celebrated with a family get together on Boxing Day with a dinner and all the trimmings. Then I am back to work first thing on New Year’s Day, so no New Year’s Eve parties this year! 

“I will also be celebrating my Christmas the second week of January when a few of my colleagues and I go skiing along with some of our other friends and their partners.  
“While I didn’t work last year, last Christmas was a busy day. I think we always gear up for a busy day. 

“As I will be working on the desk looking at all the critical calls coming in, it will be busy. Hopefully we will have a Christmas dinner cooked for us, so even if it’s eating it on my desk, I should be able to have something festive.   

“You have to be organised early when it comes to Christmas. We work anti-social hours, and when I am working in Cardiff, where the service operates 24 hours, I can be working nights shifts as well. So, with that comes tiredness and the last thing you feel like doing is heading out Christmas shopping amongst busy crowds. It is part and parcel of the job, and we know that when we sign up to the job. 

“I am planning to get all my present-buying done early this year!”

“It can be hard to socialise at Christmas time and there are times when I can’t make nights out with my friends. I have a group of friends from school who work 9am to 5pm jobs so it can be tricky getting everyone together when you work the hours we do, but they are very understanding and proud of what I do. I have a good group of friends in the service as well. I am living my dream job.

“Christmas is work as usual for us. Our job never stops. I have worked the majority of my career on Christmas Day and there is always great camaraderie among colleagues. Knowing I am there to hopefully save someone’s life is rewarding all year around but more so at Christmas time. 
Inevitably, you get some sad, horrific calls around Christmas, which I try not to dwell on. For us, this sadly happens all the year around although naturally people seem to focus on it more over the Christmas period. 

“We are a fairly small team and in the run up to Christmas in between calls we try and all cook together and eat food together. It’s like spending Christmas with your second family.  

“We usually get called to road traffic accidents, perhaps people going to see friends and family, or children who have fallen off a bike or scooter that they have had for Christmas or patients who have suffered a heart attack after Christmas dinner for example.” 

“We are a small team which thrives on supporting each other.”  

Simon Cartwright
Critical Care Practitioner 
Working: Welshpool 

Critical Care Practitioner (CCP), Simon Cartwright, will be spending both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day working at the Wales Air Ambulance’s base in Welshpool. 

It will be his first Christmas working for the Wales Air Ambulance, having joined the Charity two years ago, and he said he is looking forward to working with the team. Christmas Day for him will start like any other operational shift but with a bit of festive morale from his colleagues.  

He said: “Like any other day, we will check the medical kit and equipment to ensure we are ready for the day and prepare the aircraft and rapid response vehicle. The day very much depends on whether we will be dispatched to anyone who needs us across Wales.  

“We are planning on making a team Christmas roast dinner and will be eating plenty of mince pies. 
Extra efforts are made at Christmas to increase morale. We have our Christmas tree up and we do a ‘Secret Santa’ on base. It’s my first Christmas with the Wales Air Ambulance so I’m looking forward to working with the team. There’s always good camaraderie. We are a small team which thrives on supporting each other.”  

Simon will work a 12-hour day from 8am to 8pm and will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day evenings with his girlfriend, her family and also his own family.  

He said: “I will hopefully have some Christmas leftovers when I go home on both days - I love a Christmas dinner. I have Boxing Day off so will have a good catch up properly with everyone then. For me, the best part of working at Christmas is knowing that we are here to help someone in their time of need.” 

“It’s like spending the day with my ‘second family.’”

Rhyan Curtin
Critical Care Practitioner
Working: Cardiff 

This year, Critical Care Practitioner, Rhyan Curtin, who works on board Wales Air Ambulance, will be holding his Christmas Day celebrations a day early on Christmas Eve with his three-year-old son, fiancée, and family.

It is the second time he has worked on Christmas Day since his son was born, but says he is happy to be able to serve the people of Wales when they need the service the most. 

Rhyan said: “We will be having our family Christmas on Christmas Eve and will be having food, exchanging presents and being together as a family then. We still have the build up to Christmas and I am off on Boxing Day, so it is only one day. My son is still a bit too young to know so hopefully next year I will be off when he starts to know more about Christmas. 

“I don’t mind working on Christmas Day, the team is very supportive and it’s like spending the day with my ‘second family.’ In some ways, it is very much the same as working a normal day. However, everyone is mindful that it is Christmas Day and if there are any difficult cases, we are there to do our job and be professional. It is a serious job, and we are unfortunately going to attend incidents in which we will have to break bad news to patients or families on Christmas Day. For some, it won’t turn out to be the Christmas they expected. It can be a sombre time at Christmas, and it makes you reflect about your own family even more so.

People may think Christmas Day is quiet for the Wales Air Ambulance, but from experience, it can be a busy day. Everyone is rushing around trying to get to places, people are stressed, and they have lots to do and people to see.  

“It’s a typical day and we will attend a variety of incident whether that is a RTC, a cardiac arrest or even domestic incidents.” 

Rhyan will be working out of the Cardiff base from 7am to 7pm and hopes to have Christmas dinner with the crew back at the base.

“We work in a very supportive team environment, and it is nice to get together and have a mini-Christmas dinner with your ‘work family’. The mood is quite festive, and everyone is in the same position as yourself and there to do the same job. 

“One of the pilots, Pete Martin will be coming in on his day off to cook Christmas dinner with his wife Sally, which will be lovely. 

“I am sure there will be plenty of food and chocolates going around too.” 

“It is a privilege to serve the people of Wales at Christmas and throughout the year.”  

Jez James
Clinician onboard Wales Air Ambulance 
Working: Dafen, Llanelli 

Jez James has worked as a medic for the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS) on board Wales Air Ambulance for six years, predominantly based in Cardiff.  
Dad of one Jez, 50, will be working the night shift on Christmas Eve from 7pm to 7pm manning all of the 999 calls, identifying those which require critical care interventions. He will work with an allocator to dispatch the Wales Air Ambulance when required. 

He said: “With one aircraft that works 24/7 covering Wales in the night, my job will be to ensure our crews are sent to the most critical jobs across Wales as well as monitoring where Santa is flying in his sleigh, as we don’t want him conflicting with the helicopter and vice versa. I will be live tracking him all night.”

Jez has worked twice on Christmas Day since he has worked for Wales Air Ambulance and before that was on duty over Christmas while working as a paramedic. 

He has missed several family Christmas’ including ones with his son, who is now aged 11 years. 
He said: “My son is older this year, so it’s not too bad. He has asked if I can come home as soon as possible so he can open his presents. 

“It’s not a long drive home so hopefully I will be back home early this year. I will probably come home from the shift, watch the presents being opened, have some breakfast and then go back to bed for a few hours before Christmas dinner. 

“I have missed Christmas day with my son a few times, which is quite hard. They don’t stay young for long! One year, I remember watching my son open his presents on Christmas Day via Facetime. When you sign up to the job, you know working unsocial hours comes part and parcel of the job. The team are very good and will often change shifts for those with younger children at Christmas as well as on special occasions.”

Jez said working at Christmas is like any other day. 

“It’s very much business as usual. We tend to have local businesses donating us food on Christmas Day which is always a massive feel-good boost. With places being closed on Christmas Day we appreciate it massively.”

“It is an extremely rewarding job, and it is a privilege to serve the people of Wales at Christmas and throughout the year.”