East Anglian Air Ambulance’s flying doctors mark 15 years of saving lives
- Credit: Archant
It began as a trial in 1996, in which a police helicopter started flying paramedics to serious medical emergencies.
Now, the East Anglian Air Ambulance flies 365 days-a-year and celebrates its 15th birthday today.
Edmunds Crosthwaite looks at the past, present and future of the life-saving organisation.
A familiar sight to many around the county any beyond the charity’s two helicopters are often called out to the most serious medical incidents.
These range from cardiac arrests in rural locations where a land ambulance might struggle to reach in time to major road crashes leaving people in need to swift and urgent lifesaving treatment.
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Today chief executive Patrick Peal, one of the two men instrumental in getting the project off the ground, has been talking about how the service has changed in that time.
He explained the reason for needing a regional air ambulance first came when the air-sea rescue squadron in Norfolk moved to Suffolk, leaving the county short of that type of medical support.
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“A very well known an capable helicopter operator, Gerry Hermer (now aviation consultant for EAAA), came out of the RAF and set up his own business,” Mr Peal said.
“He and I got together and said losing the air-sea rescue helicopter was awful, and we needed to do something ourselves.
“That was the origination of the idea.”
However it wasn’t all state of the art helicopters and specialised equipment from the off – in fact the single paramedic had to hitch a lift on someone else’s ride.
A trial of the idea was carried out in late 1996 and early 1997 using the local police helicopter which, if available, would ferry the paramedic to the scene of an incident to drop them off or pick up a casualty.
“The police were incredibly supportive and so was the ambulance service,” Mr Peal said.
Following the successful trial it was not until the year 2000 a dedicated air ambulance for Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire was officially launched – but not as the fully integrated service it is now.
Mr Peal explained: “In those days we were sitting alongside the ambulance service and tuning into the 999 calls as they came in, offering our services if we thought we could help.
“As we proved our worth and our reliability we became more and more a part of the spectrum of emergency services.”
The EAAA is now one of many air ambulance organisations in the country (the East of England alone has two more, Magpas Helimedix and the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance), with one of its two helicopters the most advanced air ambulance in the UK.
Anglia 2, an H145 helicopter, flies out of Cambridge and is fully night capable; currently it can operate until midnight. Anglia 1, based in Norwich, is an older EC135 – but this will soon be replaced by the more advanced model.
In his 15 year association with the EAAA Mr Peal said the most significant moment for him was when the helicopters started to carry doctors as well as paramedics.
The additional knowledge and experience of a doctor, combined with their ability to use specialist equipment, has added another string to the charity’s bow, he said.
Looking to the future Mr Peal said: “Later this year we are expecting to open a new operating base at Cambridge airport which will be state-of-the-art.
“In February 2016 we’ll take delivery of the second H145 for Norwich replacing the one that is there now.”
Looking further ahead, Mr Peal said the ultimate dream was to get to a stage where the EAAA could operate 24/7 from both its bases.
Taking to the skies in the coming weeks will be a new recruit to the East Anglian Air Ambulance team.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, is to take up the position of air ambulance pilot with the charity, flying doctors and paramedics around the region to medical emergencies.
Patrick Peal, chief executive of the EAAA, said the prince’s association with charity would benefit more than just his organisation.
“We’re just so excited that Prince William is joining us as on of our pilots,” he said.
“I’m under no illusions that it is raising the profile of the air ambulances across the UK.
“His involvement will raise awareness of the incredible work of air ambulances around the country.”
The East Anglian Air Ambulance’s H145 helicopter, known as Anglia 2, was the first delivered for use in the UK – and was the 12th off the production line.
Below are some of the reasons it is an improvement on the charity’s older EC135 model, Anglia 1.
Improved cockpit space – around 25% larger
More headroom means patients in Anglia 2 can be treated in flight, not possible in Anglia 1
Room for a third HEMS (helicopter emergency medical service) crew member and a second pilot
Anglia 2 could travel 300 nautical miles on a single tank of fuel – much further than Anglia 1’s 186 nautical miles
Improved top speed of around 167mph, 15mph more than the EC135.
As a charity the East Anglian Air Ambulance relies on donations and sponsorship to cover its operating costs.
In March 2015 the organisation flew 139 missions, each costing around £2,500 – a staggering £347,500 total.
Ways to help the service include giving your time as a volunteer or getting involved in its lottery.