Today (Monday 27 April) marks five years since the introduction of consultants and critical care practitioners onto the Wales Air Ambulance (WAA) Charity helicopters, making it one of the most advanced services in Europe.  

On 27 April 2015, a unique Third Sector-Public Sector partnership between the Charity, NHS Wales and Welsh Government 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.  

The Wales Air Ambulance Charity came into being in 2001. Before the ‘Welsh Flying Medics’ service was introduced in 2015, all WAA helicopters were staffed by paramedics. The introduction of consultants and critical care practitioners meant that the service was able to conduct blood transfusions, administer anaesthetics, offer strong painkillers, and conduct a range of medical procedures – all at the scene of an incident.

The service also introduced an Air Support Desk staffed by a dedicated team of critical care allocators along with Critical Care Practitioners. The ASD team monitor all 999 calls across the Wales and send the medical crews to appropriate incidents.  

Within the past few years, the service has also created a new medical role, the Helicopter Transfer Practitioner, to support its dedicated Children’s Wales Air Ambulance operation. 

Between 27 April 2015 and 21 April 2020, the service received 9,920 calls. 62% of the calls attended were by air and 38% by road in one of the services’ Rapid Response Vehicles. 47% of the incidents were medical-related while the remaining 53% were linked to trauma. 

Further analysis reveals that 68% of patients were male and 32% female, while 12% of all patients treated were 17 years old or under.  

Over the past five years, medics have anaesthetised patients on 885 occasions and have conducted 273 blood product transfusions. 

During this time, the service has received two special incident awards from the Association of Air Ambulances for two very challenging missions which produced unexpected survivors.  

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 and runs 12-hours a day, seven days a week.  
The importance of the service has been highlighted during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Wales Air Ambulance is a part of the Welsh strategic and operational response to the Coronavirus.   

As it stands, WAA continues to run its lifesaving medical operation as normal. Due to the predominantly rural landscape of Wales, it remains important that medics are conveyed, with their emergency department (ED) capabilities, in a timely manner to the scene of an incident.   

Professor David Lockey, EMRTS Cymru National Director, said: “Our service has achieved a huge amount in just five years. This is testament to the team that set up the service on solid foundations and our dedicated team of clinicians and managers.” 

Dave Gilbert, Wales Air Ambulance Chair of Trustees, said: “Our unique partnership with NHS Wales and the incredible generosity of the Welsh public allows us to deliver the highest level of care to those in need. The next stage of our evolution will be to move from a 12/7 service to a 24/7 service, something we hope to achieve in the near future.”  

Dr Dindi Gill is one of the founders of this advanced service and was its first National Director alongside Dr Rhys Thomas. Dr Gill is now Clinical Lead for the South Wales Trauma Network but remains as a consultant working for the Wales Air Ambulance. He said: “Looking back to 2012, when we started work to establish EMRTS Cymru, I had little idea that we were on a journey to create such a diverse pre-hospital critical care and transfer service for the people of Wales. The first few years were challenging, both to prove its value and its intended benefits to the emergency and wider healthcare system. Five years on from its launch, the service has saved countless lives and improved the quality of care for many critically ill and injured patients. Moreover, it is has started to mature and establish itself as an essential service in the landscape of NHS Wales.   

“The team and all those involved in its development should be congratulated on reaching this milestone. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our partners, Wales Air Ambulance and fundraisers up and down the country, without whom we would not be where we are today. I am sure the service will enjoy success over the next five years and continue to improve with a confident but humble intent.”  

Many of the ways that the Charity raises funds involve face-to-face public events and includes public support of its shops. Quite rightly, events have been cancelled and its shops have closed as we all play our part to protect society against the Coronavirus pandemic.  

However, it does mean that the Charity will see a significant decrease in the money that it can raise to maintain its lifesaving service.  

There are several ways that the public can continue to support the Wales Air Ambulance. These include online donations, signing up to the Charity’s Lifesaving Lottery or by coming up with their own innovative ways to fundraise at home. Further information can be found via www.walesairambulance.com.   

Alternatively, a £5 text-message donation can be made by texting the word HELI to 70711.  
 

Comments from Past Patients  

Father of four, Trevor Fletcher, suffered a cardiac arrest and was resuscitated by flying doctor and anaesthetist Dr John Glen. He said: "It's thanks to the medics on the helicopter and all the hospital staff, that I am alive now. I simply can't thank everybody enough for saving me."  

Christine Lloyd was a passenger in a car that hit a tractor. Her injuries included an open fracture to her right arm, three broken ribs and she also broke her back in several places. She also had a major internal bleed and a bleed to her brain. She said: “I hold the Wales Air Ambulance medics and all emergency services on that day in the highest regard. They all worked so hard to save my life and treated with me such care and respect. I can’t begin to explain how heroic they all were.”  

Cadi Owen was just 16 months old when she was involved in an accident, which resulted in her needing emergency surgery to save her skin. Her appreciative mum, Rachel, said: “We are ever so grateful for the help they gave our little girl, and we have become passionate about raising funds for them.   

“Cadi loves helicopters and will always wave at them and tell her friends how she has been in the helicopter and how it took her to hospital.”