The North West Air Ambulance Charity (NWAA) has partnered with the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) to launch a new inter-hospital patient transfer service, in response to the COVID-19 crisis facing the region.
The partnership sees the two organisations further join forces to save lives during the region’s time of need, with the charity providing vital ground support to those responding to the pandemic on the frontline.
Whilst COVID-19 remains a significant threat, capacity issues and the need to maximise ICU beds are posing a challenge to hospitals across the region. This new dedicated collaborative project will provide an inter-hospital transfer for critically ill COVID-19 patients so that they can be quickly and safely transferred to hospitals with greater available ICU resources at that time.
NWAA HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) Paramedics, from the air ambulance charity, will use a dedicated land ambulance provided by NWAS to transfer these critically ill patients, along with a specifically trained doctor from the originating hospital and a number of other support staff provided by NWAS.
The charity’s HEMS paramedics have specific additional training to enable them to assist medical staff with critically ill patients. They are accustomed to working in doctor-led teams, are familiar with specialist equipment and are experts in the pre-hospital environment – including safe transfer between hospitals. The charity is providing these paramedics to enable highly trained NHS hospital staff, who would usually escort these patients, to remain on-site and continue to treat other critically ill patients.
The partnership will enable timely movement of COVID-19 patients and help prevent anyone hospital from becoming overwhelmed, allowing NWAS to continue to take patients to their nearest appropriate hospital. The use of a dedicated vehicle means that other frontline ambulances remain available for responding to patients, including those dialing 999.
The NWAS ambulance provided has been fitted with specialist equipment including monitors, ventilators, and infusion pumps provided by NWAA. It is now based at the air ambulance charity’s Barton helicopter base and will provide a service for any hospital in the North West. When called out, it will also be crewed by a NWAS HART (Hazardous Area Response Team) paramedic, who has additional training in transfers of patients and use of the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Additional specialist equipment, crew and PPE will follow in an NWAA rapid response vehicle to reduce infection risk, driven by a volunteer from the existing NWAS eCFR (enhanced Community First Responder) scheme. Wherever possible, another rapid response vehicle, driven by a NWAA driver or NWAS eCFR volunteer, will follow to repatriate the doctor back to their originating hospital to further minimise their time away from their hospital and other patients.
The scheme will provide 24-hour cover, initially for a period of 4 weeks. Launched in early April, the service is expected to respond flexibly as the pandemic continues and the region’s health system, including partners such as NWAA, evolves its usual working practices to benefit people within the North West.
Consultant-level doctors and paramedics from the air ambulance charity will continue to provide enhanced pre-hospital care to non-COVID-19 related critically ill and injured patients via helicopter and rapid response vehicle, improving survival outcomes across the North West. The service remains 100% charity-funded and currently does not receive Government funding. It instead must fundraise £9.5million each year to stay operational.
Heather Arrowsmith, CEO of the North West Air Ambulance Charity, said: “This new service is a credit to the incredible collaborative effort of NWAS and NWAA, and will enable each service to make a truly positive difference during these extraordinary times. The scheme was organised and launched within a matter of days, with no time wasted in the endeavor to protect patients and our personnel in the face of COVID-19.
“We’ve worked closely alongside the land ambulance service for many years, and our crew’s experience in working with doctor-led teams and specialist equipment meant we were well placed to provide this service within the North West during these unprecedented times. We hold the NWAS team in the highest esteem – particularly now, as they face the most challenging time the NHS has ever experienced.
“As ever, our charity remains incredibly grateful for the support shown by the public, especially at this time. Their support has enabled us to adapt our service quickly and efficiently, to ensure our crews can care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients across the region. Though our country remains under lockdown, our specialist air ambulance crews are still being called to critically ill and injured patients – and we’re grateful to our supporters for enabling us to respond to these incidents. At this time though, we of course urge people to please stay at home to help protect the NHS and our crews, and allow them to save lives.”
Chris Grant, Medical Director at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) said: “We work very closely with North West Air Ambulance Charity (NWAA) and their incredible work is well and truly life-saving.
“We are extremely thankful for their support at this challenging time. The additional assistance from their highly trained clinicians, as well as the use of extra vehicles and life-saving equipment will help provide all-important care for patients with COVID-19.
“This will also help free up our ambulances and clinicians to attend emergencies in the community.
“The charity relies entirely on kind donations from the public. Thank you to everyone who has supported the charity and please continue to do so as much as you can. The support we have received from the public at this time has been incredible and we urge people to continue to protect the NHS by staying at home and saving lives.”