Image: Members of GWAAC and Freewheelers EVS with a blood box (GWAAC)
English HEMS charities Wiltshire Air Ambulance (WAA) and Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC) have joined forces to provide pre-hospital blood transfusions. From 17 August, WAA’s Bell 429 and GWAAC’s EC135 began carrying blood, which will benefit seriously ill and injured patients in need of emergency blood transfusions.
WAA critical care paramedic Richard Miller said: “Without doubt, having blood on the helicopter will save lives. At the very least, by giving blood to patients it will increase their blood volume and enable oxygen to get to their brain, heart and kidneys, giving them a better chance of survival to enable us to get them to hospital for treatment.”
He continued: “Over the last four years, Wiltshire Air Ambulance has moved rapidly into pre-hospital care by diagnosing, stabilising and treating critically injured patients on the roadside before they are taken to hospital. Having blood on the aircraft is another enhancement we can make in taking the emergency department to the patient.”
Emergency blood transfusions are likely to be given to patients who suffer life-threatening bleeding caused by trauma and some acute medical conditions. The blood, two units of O-negative, is collected daily from the North Bristol Trust Transfusion Laboratory at Southmead Hospital and delivered by motorcycle to WAA’s Operations Centre in Devizes and GWAAC’s airbase in Filton by the charity Freewheelers EVS, which covers the southwest. Additional deliveries can be made if required by the air crews.
Matt Thomas, lead doctor for GWWAC, commented: “Blood is a precious, life-saving resource. By putting it on the air ambulance, we are getting it to the right people at the right time. By having blood on the air ambulance we now have the ability to better stabilise patients with life-threatening bleeding and get them to hospital, whereas before this may not have been the case.”
The blood storage boxes maintain the temperature of the blood within narrow limits. When blood is to be given to a patient, it will be warmed from its cool storage temperature towards body temperature using a portable warming device. If the blood is not used, it will be returned to Southmead Hospital by the volunteer blood bikers after 24 hours.
The blood boxes can be switched from the helicopters to the ground-based rapid response vehicles (RRV) used by WAA and GWAAC critical care paramedics if needed.