Published: 31 May 2024

Tributes have been paid to the long-standing Wales Air Ambulance Chair as the Board of Trustees appoint a new Chair for the Charity.

It follows the decision of the previous Chair, Dave Gilbert OBE, to step down after ten years at the helm. Dave will remain on the Board as a trustee.

The previous Vice-Chair, Dr Kyle Jacques, was unanimously voted in as the Charity’s new Chair. All trustees, including the Chair, undertake their roles as volunteers.

During his tenure as Chair, Dave has overseen many major developments within the Charity. This includes the introduction of a unique partnership with NHS Wales in 2015, which created the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS). This transformed the Wales Air Ambulance from a paramedic-led service to a consultant-led service, now delivering one of the most advanced medical operations in Europe as a mobile emergency department.

2016 saw the Charity open a new operational base and Charity headquarters in Llanelli, moving the crew from the isolation of Swansea Airport to a specific purpose-built facility for effective air ambulance operations and with good access to the major road networks for the rapid response vehicles. It also gave Charity employees a permanent home after many years of moving between different office locations.

In 2018, the Charity introduced a fourth aircraft to its fleet operating out of Cardiff Heliport, making Wales the largest air ambulance operation in the UK.  

Another major milestone during Dave’s period as Chair is the start of a 24/7 operation in 2020, with an aircraft now covering Wales between the hours of 7pm and 7am.

He has also overseen two in-depth procurement processes for the appointment of a new aviation provider, the most recent being a seven-year, £65 million, contract with Gama Aviation.

In the most recent development, NHS Wales has approved a new evidence-based way forward for the air ambulance service in Wales – one that will see an improvement for all the country and more lives saved. This includes the introduction of an additional overnight service running until 2am based in North Wales, improving equity of access to the service in Mid and North Wales at night.

Dave said: “The service has positively changed beyond recognition in the past decade. We now have one of the most recognised and respected air ambulance services in the world. This has been achieved because of the trust and support we have received from our supporters, whether that be through fundraising or volunteering.

“Just as significant to our success are all those passionate medics, aviation specialists and Charity employees and volunteers, past and present, who have shared the aim of delivering the best possible care for those in need across Wales.

“Reaching the 10-year mark as Chair, and with yet another milestone achieved through the service improvement that has been agreed, it felt like the right time to step down from the role.

“It has been a great honour to hold the position of Chair within this incredible Charity. I wish Kyle the very best as he takes on the role and I look forward to continuing to support the Board’s work as a trustee, with more exciting and life-preserving developments ahead.”

The incoming Chair, Dr Kyle Jacques, has first-hand experience working in critical care and air ambulance environments. 

Kyle initially studied dentistry at Guy’s Hospital, London, and then worked up to Consultant level in maxillofacial surgery.

He studied medicine as a mature student and graduated from the University of Wales College of Medicine where he undertook junior medical jobs locally and joined the All Wales Training Programme in Emergency Medicine.

Kyle also developed a subspeciality interest in Prehospital Emergency Medicine. He volunteered on the British Association of Immediate Care Medserve scheme in South East Wales and was a volunteer roadside responder with the Welsh Ambulance Service.

As there was no formal Welsh pre-hospital emergency medicine training scheme at that time, he commuted to Bristol to work on the Great Western Air Ambulance.

He subsequently trained on, and qualified from, the London Air Ambulance Medical Crew Course and worked as a doctor on the Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance – travelling to work there, from Wales, every week.

After finishing in Surrey, Kyle came back to work at The North Bristol NHS Trust as this was the nearest designated Major Trauma Centre to Wales at that time.

He gained invaluable experience in prehospital medicine and on how to run a major trauma team, and was awarded The Queen’s Jubilee Medal for services to prehospital care.

Kyle, who is now retired and lives in rural Carmarthenshire, said: “Having been exposed to cutting-edge care in the prehospital field and the functioning of a well-run major trauma centre, I wanted to help introduce this level of care in Wales.

“I joined the Wales Air Ambulance Board of Trustees twelve years ago and I was able to influence practice and promote doctors flying with the service. Initially, we provided a ‘flying road ambulance’ with no extended medical practice compared to a standard ambulance response. We now have the largest Helicopter Emergency Medical Services fleet in the UK, with cutting-edge clinical skills, staffed by doctors and critical care practitioners, and able to fly 24 hours.

About his new role as Chair, Kyle said: I’m very grateful to have been unanimously voted in as Chair by my trustee colleagues. I am delighted to be working with a superb team of trustees and a Senior Management Team supported by staff, volunteers and donors. The aim is to continue improving equitable access to this high level of care 24 hours a day to as many people in Wales as possible and to reduce unmet need to those with a life or limb-threatening condition.

“I am under no illusion as to the responsibility I have to the people of Wales, ensuring that we continue our journey of improvement. I hope I will do them proud.”

Paying tribute to outgoing Chair, Dave Gilbert, Kyle said: “It is difficult to believe I have been working for over a decade with Dave. We were on the Board when Bob Palmer, the much-missed previous chair, unexpectedly and sadly passed away. Dave did not hesitate to step into the breach and to fill the void left in the Charity. This was despite his very busy professional life.

“Dave took on the role with huge energy and enthusiasm and has shepherded the Charity through some momentous changes and developments. He has a very calm and inclusive leadership style and has been a very loyal servant to the Charity, having travelled extensively around Wales to support all aspects of its work.

“I have learnt a lot working as Vice-Chair to Dave over the last decade and we are delighted that he will be staying on as a trustee. His help will be invaluable in the next part of our exciting journey.

“Apart from the debt of gratitude we owe Dave, I would like to register a personal vote of thanks for his support and mentorship over the years.”