A lifesaving service for Londoners, the London Air Ambulance is seeking a second helicopter. HARRY LAWSON reports from the Royal London Hospital helipad on why the charity wants to increase its airborne medical fleet.

The London Air Ambulance currently operates a single MD902 in the medvac role. (London Air Ambulance).

A wet September Monday morning 280ft up on the 17th floor of the Royal London Hospital, the ambient sound of the city bellow is broken by the whirl of rotor blades in the distance. The navigation light of a helicopter comes into view approaching from the south east. The bright red paint scheme of the aircraft becomes apparent as it makes its final approach. Banking to the right to line up with the rooftop helipad, the helicopter hovers, makes a final adjustment and touches down on the roof of the hospital. The London Air Ambulance has completed another mission.

London Air Ambulance is currently campaigning and raising money to buy a second helicopter to improve its overall emergency response capacity. The London-based charity needs to raise £6m to purchase a new helicopter and, with National Air Ambulance week commencing on 21 September, it is hoped this target can be met. London Air Ambulance already operates a MD902 Explorer which has been in service since October 2000.

Day-to-day operations

The helicopter operates with two pilots, a doctor and up to two paramedics.

The common misconception associated with the London Air Ambulance is that it acts as a patient taxi service, collecting and ferrying them to the nearest hospital. This, however, is not the majority of cases. The air ambulance acts to transport paramedics and doctors to patients who are in need of immediate medical assistance. These highly trained personnel will control and assess the scene on arrival, readying the patient for transportation via conventional ambulance or air ambulance depending on the circumstances. Certain situations may call for the air ambulance to dispatch one emergency team to an incident, then collect a second team to be delivered to another emergency.

Due to the urban environment, the London Air Ambulance operates in; it requires two pilots to be at the controls on every call-out. One pilot is responsible for controlling the helicopter while the other must be constantly watching the airspace around the aircraft, changes in weather, uncontrolled landing sites and even remotely controlled drones can alter the flight path and increase the time it takes to reach an emergency in some of the worlds busiest airspace.

Currently, the air ambulance operates over London and anywhere inside the M25 and, at most, will take 15 minutes to reach a patient. Its flight and medical crew are based at the helipad on the 17th floor of the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel. When the helicopter has finished daylight operations and is overnighting at RAF Northolt, five rapid response cars are used to transport the medical team across London. 



This vital emergency service actually relies on charitable donations. (London Air Ambulance)

Funding for the London Air Ambulance comes from the NHS, sponsorship and charitable donations, the latter being the majority source of income. The London Air Ambulance has been sponsored by the Express newspaper and Virgin in the past but now only a small number of sponsoring companies provide funding. The current cost of flying and maintaining the air ambulance and its support team is around £5m, the NHS provides £1m towards this and the rest comes from sponsorship and charity-based fundraising. 


Why a second helicopter?

The London Air Ambulance is seeking a second helicopter to serve a city with a population of 8.6million.

A total of 1,806 patients were treated by London Air Ambulance crews in 2014 including 603 road traffic collisions and 434 stabbings and shootings. High trauma incidents call for state-of-the-art equipment and medical training provided by experienced medical personal that would not be able to reach a patient in time by conventional means to deliver life saving aid. The procurement of a second air ambulance would surely increase the number of lives saved and propel London Air Ambulance to the forefront of air medical services. It is invaluable work carried out by professionals in one of Europe’s busiest cities.

From a safety and risk management point of view, a second helicopter will lift the strain off the charity’s current twin-engined MD902 Explorer.  G-EHMS, the registration of London Air Ambulance, has been in service for 15 years and relies on quick access to replacement parts to continue flying.  The second helicopter will mean both aircraft will get time off station to undergo maintenance and assessment while still providing critical emergency coverage from the roof of the Royal London Hospital.

The obvious advantage of operating a second helicopter is that more emergencies can be responded to in a quicker time. Delving further into the justifications for a second helicopter, the issue of staff rotation is highlighted. Doctors and paramedics flying with the air ambulance complete a six month rotation before moving to another posting. London Air Ambulance is the most sort after placement of all the country’s air medical services, according to the charity. By using a second helicopter more medical staff can complete a placement and gain valuable experience within a highly professional and iconic air ambulance service. 

Help London’s Air Ambulance get a second helicopter. Donate online at yourhelicopter.london or text HELICOPTER to 70800 to donate £5.

18 September 2015