Inadequate Landing Facilities At Hospitals Endangering Lives

Monday, 07 April, 2014

Jane Gurney, CEO of Essex & Herts Air Ambulance Trust with Nick Hurd MP


A report received by The All Party Parliamentary Group for Air Ambulances (APPGAA) has highlighted that 60% of 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) after the issue was raised at the APPGAA Annual General Meeting which took place in October 2013.

In any one day, across the UK, 70 people will be treated by Air Ambulances.  Despite these patients often being the most critically ill and suffering from Major Trauma, Burns, Cardiac or Neurological illness, Air Ambulances often have to land some distances from the hospital due to inadequate landing facilities which then require a land ambulance to complete the journey to definitive care.

With over 300+ hospitals in the UK, the report focused on the treatment of Major Trauma which is the biggest killer of the under 50’s age bracket. The report reviewed the 30 Major Trauma Hospitals for adults and children and concluded that only 7 have suitable helipads. A further 8 have landing facilities with operational issues and the remaining 15 sites require a secondary land transfer by land ambulance or vehicle.

Chairman of the APPGAA, Guy Opperman MP 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. We have shared this information with all MP’s and members of the 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 Air Ambulance landing facilities are simply a local sports field where the Air Ambulance can land and meet a land ambulance. The patient is then transferred from one vehicle to another costing valuable patient care time. The report calls for parity between land ambulances that can deliver a patient to the front door of the Emergency Department and Air Ambulances whose landing facilities are often considered secondary to other hospital demands such as car parks.

There are two Major Trauma Centres that the Essex & Herts Air Ambulances regularly convey trauma patients to. The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel in London  which has a rooftop helipad and  Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge  which currently has a temporary onsite landing facility requiring secondary Ambulance road transfer. Whilst in Basildon, our landing site for the county’s Cardio Thoracic Centre at Basildon Hospital has been earmarked for development which will mean a new landing site will have to be sought in the near future.

Jane Gurney, CEO of Essex & Herts Air Ambulance Trust, adds: ”The importance of  helipads at our Major Trauma Centres to receive the most injured and ill patients at the earliest opportunity during the day and night, following our highly skilled clinicians’ life-saving interventions at the an incident, cannot be underestimated. We welcome the APPGAA report and look forward to being involved with improving helipad facilities at hospitals across Essex and Hertfordshire which ultimately will mean quicker patient transfer times to the Emergency Department. Not only have we been engaging with local MP’s recently we have also met with Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, this week to discuss this very subject and other key topics that affect the Air Ambulance community.”

We will continue to work with local MP’s, the AAA, operators and East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust to improve access to Air Ambulance landing facilities in our counties. Both the APPGAA and AAA are calling on the Government to endorse a policy of recognition of parity for all patients’ arrival facilities, like those seen by land ambulances. A further report will be published in the autumn of 2014 expanding the report to other care pathways across the 300 NHS sites. 

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