25th September 2018

Seventeen years since its inception, the Wales Air Ambulance Charity has reached a significant milestone in its lifesaving mission.

In the past few days, the Charity has responded to its 30,000th call to support somebody in need.

WAA was launched on St. David’s Day in 2001. From humble beginnings as a one-helicopter service flying from Swansea, it has grown into the UK’s largest air ambulance operation that can be anywhere in Wales within twenty minutes. At a cost of £6.5m per year, it now runs four aircraft with bases in Caernarfon, Welshpool, Llanelli and Cardiff. It is the only air ambulance charity based in, and dedicated to, Wales.

According to the Charity, this rapid development has only been possible thanks to the generosity of the Welsh public.

The Charity’s first employee is now its Chief Executive, Angela Hughes. Angela said: “It’s humbling to know that there have been 30,000 occasions in the past seventeen years where we have been available to support those in need. The noise of rotor blades turning is a familiar sound to us in the Charity, however, it is a constant reminder that we would not be here without public support.

“To the people of Wales, we say thank you. Thank you for joining our lottery. Thank you for using our shops. Thank you for your donations. We are a service created by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales.”

Alongside its four helicopter bases, WAA now has four offices, eighteen retail shops and a social enterprise café in Caernarfon. In addition, it has 110 staff and 650 volunteers spread across the country.

Angela added: “Along with the public contributions, our growth has been made possible thanks to all of the staff and volunteers, past and present, who have been committed to our aim of saving time and saving lives.”

The service is now one of the most advanced in Europe. This is thanks to a unique Third Sector-Public Sector partnership between WAA and NHS Wales. It has 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 service, which takes the emergency room to the patients, is made up of consultants and critical care practitioners who are able to deliver innovative emergency treatments usually not available outside of a hospital environment. The medics are now able to conduct blood transfusions, administer anaesthetics, offer strong painkillers, and conduct a range of medical procedures – all at the scene of an incident. In addition, patients are airlifted to the most appropriate hospital for their illness or injury, saving valuable time.

‘Flying Medic’ Dr Ami Jones said: “We are often referred to as a ‘flying A&E’. This is due to the high level of care we are now able to offer. This includes A&E-standard treatment at the scene of an incident and the ability to, quickly, take a patient directly to the specialist care they need.

“Thanks to the contributions of the people of Wales, our country has an air ambulance service that it can be proud of and one that has now become a vital part of our emergency care landscape.”

A Patient’s Story

In a recent rare occurrence, two of the 30,000 calls received by WAA were to support the same person, within a matter of weeks. Grant Withington, a furniture maker from Llandrindod Wells, ended up relying on the service twice during June 2018 following two life-threatening experiences.

The first incident on 10 June happened when Grant was gardening. An unfortunate accident with a chainsaw resulted in a severe injury to his hand.

Grant said: “I had severed part of my left hand and managed to cut through muscle, tendons and some of the bone too. Medics at the local hospital managed to stem the bleeding but realised I needed specialist treatment. It was at this moment where the Air Ambulance was called.”

WAA’s Welshpool-based aircraft flew Grant to the specialist plastic surgeons at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, where he stayed for several days.

However, Grant’s experience with WAA did not end there. On 27 June, he was at home when he became unwell. He said: “My wife decided we would go to the local surgery straight away. After completing a few tests, they could see that I was in the early stages of a heart attack.

“I remember feeling anxious, especially as it was just two weeks previous I had my accident. Morriston Hospital needed me there within an hour, a journey time that would not be possible by road.

“For the second time in just a few short weeks, the Air Ambulance was called to my aid again. The crew picked me up and flew me to Morriston within that important hour allowing me to receive the treatment that would save my life.”

After spending several days in hospital for the second time in less than three weeks, Grant was discharged, his life saved.

He added: “Living in a rural area, having the Air Ambulance response was pivotal and saved vital time. The journey to Morriston would have taken two hours by road but Wales Air Ambulance got me to the help I so desperately needed in just sixteen minutes.

“My family and I are eternally grateful to Wales Air Ambulance. I frequently see the helicopter flying over our house but never thought for a moment I would ever need their help. We can never thank Wales Air Ambulance enough for what they did. I don’t think I would be here today if it were not for their speed, skill, and professionalism.”