Emergency response

I HAVE recently had cause to be very grateful to the professionalism and care of consultants, clinicians and support staff at our local hospitals including East Surrey and Guildford in dealing with a personal serious illness and follow on treatment.

However, I could not help reflecting on two recent articles in the County Times about the local emergency services’ response to road accidents; one involving a car going into a field in Southwater, when it seems that the level of response, including deployment of a helicopter, were considered excessive by one of your correspondents.

Then in the last week the response to an accident between a cyclist and a car in Horsham when the emergency services including two helicopters were called out. I understand the cyclist was eventually transferred by road.

Why was such a significant response warranted to such accidents? I am assuming the callouts would also have involved surface units from the police, fire and ambulance service?

It does prompt the question who is prioritising the task allocation and resource deployment? Is this the best and most efficient response to meet the needs of the incident, particularly the clinical needs of the patient?

I have been closely involved with providing specialist consultancy support for the contract negotiation and tasking definition of the Scottish Air Ambulance Service (SAA). Members of my team have also assisted the Northern Lighthouse Board and Police Authorities with helicopter support advice.

The SAA is the UK’s only fully NHS supported air ambulance service. They provide the five million residents plus visitors to Scotland with an on-call emergency service for accident and emergency patient transfer to designated Trauma centres in Scotland.

To provide that service they use two specially converted fixed-wing Beech King Air 200c aircraft and two EC135 helicopter Air Ambulances. Those units are also supplemented on occasions by HM Coast Guard and MOD helicopters. The primary aim is to ensure that severely injured and ill patients can be moved to a major trauma centre within, what I understand to be, the ‘golden hour’ which increases the patient’s chance for a full recovery.

With those limited resources, the SAA covers the whole of Scotland, including the Highlands and Islands, an area which stretches over 450 miles, equivalent to that from London to Edinburgh with aircraft based in Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen. They fly some 4,000 missions every year and achieve a very high standard of success and care. Those units are supported by local surface based ambulances and appropriate police and fire cover.

If four aircraft can cover the needs of five million people in Scotland, fly over 4,000 missions yet deliver a very high standard of service, are there lessons that the SAA could offer our local accident and emergency services to provide better, more efficient use of resources and tasking definition of the roles and relationships between the different agencies during such incidents in the much more limited confines, less arduous terrain and weather conditions of Sussex and Surrey?

Particularly when the Sussex Air Ambulance is funded by charity and not by the State and we have mounting pressure on police and other emergency service budgets locally?

I would be very pleased to pass on the contact details of the specialist teams in the SAA to our local emergency services if that was considered helpful.


Smithbarn, Horsham