Inadequate landing facilities ‘endangering lives’


A report submitted to the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Air Ambulances (APPGAA) has highlighted that 60 per cent of helicopter air ambulance landing facilities are ‘inadequate’ in the UK, which could lead to greater morbidity and mortality. The report was produced by the Association of Air Ambulances (AAA), which represents the majority of helicopter air ambulance charities in the UK, after the issue was raised at the APPGAA Annual General Meeting that took place in October 2013.

In any one day, across the UK, 70 people will be treated by air ambulance helicopters, said the AAA. Despite these patients being the most critically ill and often suffering from major trauma, burns, cardiac or neurological illness, air ambulances often have to land at some distance from the hospital in ‘inadequate facilities’ that require a land ambulance to complete the journey to definitive care, said the Association.

With over 300 hospitals in the UK, the report focused on the treatment of major trauma, which is the biggest killer of people under the age of 50. The report reviewed the 29 major trauma hospitals for adults and children and concluded that only seven have suitable helipads. A further eight have landing facilities with operational issues, and the remaining 15 sites require a secondary land transfer by ground vehicle.

Member of Parliament Guy Opperman, who is chairman of the APPGAA, said: “We have recognised a significant weakness in the system which impacts on patient care and dignity directly as a result of unsuitable landing facilities. It is incorrect and unacceptable to think that air ambulance patients should receive a lower standard of access to hospital than those travelling by road.” He continued: “We have shared this information with all members of parliament and members of the House of Lords and will be liaising with colleagues in the Department of Health highlighting the report findings and seeking clarification on whether the provision of air ambulance helipads can be addressed.”

Many existing air ambulance landing facilities are simply a local sports field where the air ambulance can land and meet a ground ambulance, explained the AAA. The patient is then transferred from one vehicle to another, costing valuable time. The report calls for parity between ground ambulances, which arrive within a few metres of the hospital entrance, and air ambulances, whose landing facilities are often considered secondary to other hospital demands such as other patient parking or needs.

Clive Dickin, national director of the AAA, commented: “We recognise that landing sites/helipads have quality issues across all care pathways, and it is very concerning that in just this one pathway alone, such poor facilities are available. It is impossible to verify if additional suffering or deaths have resulted, because of the way patient data is recorded – however, it is clear from anecdotal feedback that patients have delays added to their journey to definitive care as a result of this poor infrastructure.”

The APPGAA will now be working with local members of parliament and members of the House of Lords to signpost the relevant organisations while the AAA members continue to work with operators and National Health Servie Trusts to improve access to air ambulance landing facilities. Both the APPGAA and AAA are calling on the Government to endorse a policy of recognition of parity for all patient arrival facilities. A further report will be published in the autumn of 2014 expanding the report to other care pathways across the 300 National Health Service sites.

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