Following new guidance, issued by Public Health England (PHE) a few days ago, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is now fully prepared and available to treat and convey patients by air, including those with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 illness.
Previous guidance specifically excluded the carriage of known or suspected COVID-19 patients in air ambulances across England. However, over the last few weeks, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance has been working intensively with Public Health England, Specialist Aviation Services (and through them, the Civil Aviation Authority) and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust on developing new guidance in relation to all air ambulances being able to convey suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Our critical care team have remained operational for 19 hours a day, across the region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and have been transporting patients without symptoms of COVID-19 by air where necessary. However, those suspected or confirmed COVID-19 sufferers have been conveyed to hospital by road, accompanied by our critical care team. We are grateful to ambulance service colleagues who have made this system work.
We have already carried out detailed risk assessments alongside Specialist Aviation Services and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust. Standard operating procedures have been approved, cockpit and cabin separation has been achieved via a certified flight deck isolation barrier and air flow separation procedures are all in place.
As of today, the charity can convey not only critically ill or injured patients, but those who are suspected or confirmed as having COVID-19.
Bill Sivewright, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance Chief Executive Officer said:
“By working very closely with our NHS colleagues, both nationally and regionally, we have been able to ensure that we operate safely and in a prescribed manner at all times. This change in guidance will enable us to treat and/or convey every patient according to their needs, and not limited by Covid-19 concerns.
“Everything we do at Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is patient focused and the pandemic has not changed that. We firmly believe that, it is in times like these that patients need us to step forward and be there for them. We have done so by carefully examining every risk, and recognising that it is impossible to eliminate every one, reducing them to their lowest possible level to ensure crew and patient safety. We could not have achieved this without our remarkable team, both clinicians and aircrew, who have been putting themselves in harm’s way, fully aware of the dangers. Their selfless dedication to caring for patients has been humbling to witness and I am extremely proud of them.”