Image: Garry Fraser, SAS general manager, views the helicopter interior with Shona Robison, Scottish health secretary (Scottish Ambulance Service)
The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) will operate what it described as ‘one of the most advanced publicly funded air ambulance services in the world’ after taking delivery of two new purpose-built helicopters that are replacing existing aircraft this July. The two new H145 aircraft will replace the current EC135 helicopters that have been in service since 2006. The new machines can fly faster and further, and offer more room for teams to deliver complex treatment, as well as medical fittings and equipment that have been specifically designed to meet the needs identified by the clinicians who work on the aircraft. They will also be the first air ambulances in Scotland to operate with night vision equipment, allowing greater access to remote and rural communities, said the SAS.
The service’s fleet, which includes two King Air fixed-wing aircraft as well as the two helicopters, is operated as part of a £120-million air ambulance contract awarded to Gama Aviation in 2013 that runs until 2020. Bond Air Services operates the helicopters on Gama’s behalf. The Scottish Government has provided an additional £1.9 million this year, and £200,000 for the next two years, to allow the Scottish Ambulance Service to fund the procurement of the larger helicopters. The planes have recently been upgraded to create more room for patient care along with new patient loading systems and satellite communications for improved consultation with referring hospitals during flight.
David Garbutt, SAS chairman, said: “Our air ambulance service provides a vital lifeline to the people of Scotland, particularly those in remote and rural communities. The new helicopters, along with the refurbished planes, ensure that the air wing continues to one of the most advanced in the world providing the best possible in flight environment for the specialist clinicians to deliver consistently high standards of life saving patient care.”
Chief executive of the SAS Pauline Howie added: “The H145 helicopters, along with upgraded King Air planes, are the result of a four-year consultation and procurement programme that involved key stakeholders, National Health Service clinicians, patients, carers and community groups. The result is a world-class air ambulance service that is future proofed and designed to specifically meet the needs of the people of Scotland.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service provides the only publicly funded air ambulance service in the UK. It flies around 3,500 missions every year, the majority of which are planned inter-hospital transfers. It is supported by Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance helicopter, which provides an additional resource, as well as the coast guard and rescue services.