Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance (KSSAA), a UK-based charity, has announced that on 18 December 2013, it became ‘the first air ambulance in the country’ to launch a 24-hour helicopter emergency medical service. Up until recently, the service could only fly during daylight hours, typically operating between 07:00 hrs and 19:00 hrs, with two specialised medical teams deploying in two helicopters from the Marden base in Kent and Redhill in Surrey. Emergency response cars were used after dark.
The move to fly at night followed three years of research and preparatory work, said KSSAA. The charity undertook a prospective and retrospective audit of patient cases, which identified that there were between 400 and 500 patients per year within it operating area who would benefit from night HEMS. Around half of these cases were between 23:00 hrs and 05:00 hrs.
The service made the decision to fly with two pilots onboard the machine at night, due to ‘the region’s size, complexities, and the presence of two major and many other minor airports’.
KSSAA explained that following a change in Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations in 2012 to allow suitably equipped HEMS aircraft to make ad hoc landings at night, it replaced one of its older MD902 helicopters with a night-capable MD902 that now operates from Redhill Aerodrome throughout the night. The service made the decision to fly with two pilots onboard the machine at night, due to ‘the region’s size, complexities, and the presence of two major and many other minor airports’. All of the crew (the pilots, a doctor and a paramedic) will wear night vision goggles.
KSSAA chief executive Adrian Bell said: “Our focus is on getting our highly-skilled teams with their time-critical interventions to the patient as quickly and safely as possible, not only to save life, but also to improve the quality of survival.”
KSSAA Trust chairman Anthony Monteuuis commented: “This is a hugely expensive step, and we have taken the greatest care to devise a service that is as robust and as safe as possible for everyone flying in the helicopter, whether it’s the patients or crew.”
The service will initially be conducted over a two-year trial period, said the charity, to allow a ‘gradual progression of capabilities and ongoing evaluation’.