The Welsh Government announced on 29 September the creation of a ‘flying doctors’ service for Wales. Due to begin operating in April 2015, the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service Cymru (EMRTS Cymru) will be a new clinical emergency service to stabilise and transfer the most critically ill and injured patients to hospital by road and air, ensuring they receive the best life-saving care. The Government said that this will be the first national service of its kind in the UK, adding that it has been developed using the latest evidence from military and civilian experience.
The service is designed to bring teams of doctors to an injured patient, giving them access to life-saving treatment at the scene of their injury or accident. It will be delivered in partnership with the Wales Air Ambulance charity, using its three existing helicopters. Ground transports will be handled by a new fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles funded by the Welsh Government, which will provide around £3 million per year to run the overall service – set-up costs are estimated at around £2 million.
Chief executive of WAA Angela Hughes said she welcomed the development as a landmark in the charity’s 13-year history: “To secure consultants onboard is a remarkable leap forward … Over the last few years, we have received incredible support from our fundraisers to upgrade our three helicopters and trial night flights, and the addition of doctors to [our] missions is another fantastic development in our service to people across Wales.”
Whilst the charity’s dedicated paramedics are seconded from the state-funded Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, a specially-selected team of doctors will be allocated to helicopter shifts from their respective health boards, with their work for EMRTS Cymru forming part of their working week. The consultants will be clinical specialists in areas including emergency medicine, anaesthesia and intensive care, and will be accompanied on the flights by an increased range of medical equipment, including, for the first time, blood. Wales Air Ambulance’s helicopters and pilots will assist in the delivery of the service at no charge to the Government.
Vaughan Gething, along with Welsh Finance Minister Jane Hutt, said the allocation of flying doctors would be phased in as part of the broader EMRTS Cymru programme that will enhance, but not replace, Wales Air Ambulance’s existing helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) operations.
WAA trustee and consultant in emergency medicine Dr Kyle Jacques said the introduction of doctors onboard would help the charity save even more lives: “Consultants can make advanced clinical decisions and deliver critical treatments very quickly, including drugs normally only used in a hospital setting. To have a team of Wales’ most experienced experts, including anaesthetists and paediatricians, flying directly to an emergency will mean patients in their most difficult hour will get the care they need even faster.”
The Government estimates that EMRTS Cymru could contribute to at least a 40-per-cent improvement in survival rates from major trauma in Wales and could reduce transfer times to specialist hospital care by more than 40 per cent; the introduction of the new service will mean that 95 per cent of the population of Wales will be able to access doctor-led care within 30 minutes.