Suffolk: Air ambulance celebrates achievements of the past year

Paramedic Carl Smith and Dr David Zideman flew in for the East Anglian Air Ambulance AGM held at the Ickworth Hotel on Saturday. Paramedic Carl Smith and Dr David Zideman flew in for the East Anglian Air Ambulance AGM held at the Ickworth Hotel on Saturday.

Emma Brennan
West Suffolk chief reporter emma.brennan@archant.co.uk
Sunday, February 2, 2014
12:19 PM

Doctors, pilots, trustees and volunteers behind a growing air ambulance charity have met to discuss the achievements of the past year and plan for the future.

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The East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) held its annual general meeting at Ickworth Hotel near Bury St Edmunds on Saturday.

The service’s chairman Andrew Egerton-Smith, who founded the EAAA from scratch 15 years ago, told a crowd of around 100 people that the number of patients helped by the air ambulance each year was on the rise, boosted by the introduction of doctors on every flight and the recently added capability to make night time flights.

Other speakers told how the charity planned to eventually establish a training facility to simulate emergency situations and talked about new fundraising initiatives.

Mr Egerton-Smith said the service, made up of 15 critical care practitioners, 34 doctors, four Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) consultants, 23 associate doctors and five trainee doctors, had changed the way they work during the past year.

He said: “The improvement in the clinical aspect as well as night time flying has made a huge difference. We used to take people to the local hospital but now we take the accident and emergency service directly to the patient, which has had a dramatic effect on the number of people we can save and has put us at the forefront of air ambulance services.

“The number of patients we attended to last year was 1,650 and we have already been out to 100 so far this year. Now we are able to fly at night, we can see a whole new vista opening up as to what we are able to offer.”

The EAAA currently receives a staggering £500,000 every month through donations from the public, and 250 volunteers give their time on a regular basis to help keep the service running. The charity’s income rose by 10% last year but costs increased by 32% due to the acquisition of a brand new EC145 helicopter which has a larger cabin and can carry a greater load.

Clinical operations director David Zideman said that from March to December last year, the EAAA dealt with 52% of the incidents in East Anglia requiring an air ambulance - a figure they would like to improve upon. The six counties in East Anglia are currently covered by three separate air ambulance charities so the trustees believe it would be more effective if they could eventually pool resources.

So far, the service has made 96 night flights using a night vision imaging system. However, not all of the hospitals in the region have lit pads to enable the helicopters to land. This is something EAAA pilots and doctors are hoping to change.

Brigadier Tim Hodgetts spoke about how the service could gain lessons from how military air ambulances operate. Simulation training has proved critical in military settings, so the EAAA hopes to work with RAF Lakenheath to simulate emergencies and therefore give clinicians access to the best possible training facilities.

The service has regular contact with 150 people who it has helped, including James Piercy, who told his story at the meeting. He was brain damaged in an accident two years ago on the Dereham bypass after a nail punctured a tyre on his car. His wife was killed in the accident but his two children survived. He spent weeks in Addenbrookes Hospital and says he is lucky to be alive.

He said: “The consultant said my recovery was phenomenal and much of that is down to the swift treatment I received from the air ambulance.”

It costs £2,270 every time the air ambulance attends an incident so Mr Piercy raised that amount to pay the charity back.

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