Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Tuesday, 7 October 2008 00:12 UK

'We take A&E to the patient'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

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A look inside an air ambulance with "flying doctor" Derek Hicks

When it comes to trauma care, speed is of the essence.

And you do not get much quicker than a 145mph flying ambulance.

The Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance Service can reach any part of the region within 20 minutes.

And once a patient is stabilised, the crew can transport them to one of London's major trauma centres three times quicker than a road ambulance can.

But what sets the service apart is that its helicopters are always staffed by doctors - rather than two paramedics as is standard across much of the country.

Stabbing

Emergency care consultant Derek Hicks said: "In the NHS we talk about the 'golden hour'.

"Research shows that survival chances improve dramatically if a trauma patient gets medical attention within 60 minutes of sustaining an injury.

"Well we can do that by taking the emergency department to the patient.

"What we are doing is taking a high-skilled team to the scene. We can anaesthetise patients and carry out surgery on the spot if needed and that is a big advantage.

"For example, with a stabbing victim we may need to open up the chest to stem the wound.

"Interventions like that can make the difference between life and death, between permanent harm and none."

If your mother had cancer or your child had leukaemia you would want and expect them to be treated at a specialist hospital. So why should trauma care be any different?
Derek Hicks, air ambulance doctor

The team, which includes five doctors, four pilots and 14 paramedics, receives three calls a day on average.

These can include everything from serious road crashes and major falls to shootings and stabbings.

But as the service is not formally part of the NHS, it relies on raising the 3m-a-year running costs from public donations.

Super hospitals

And in an era when the NHS is increasingly looking to create regional super hospitals, Mr Hicks said the "flying doctor" model was likely to prove ever more important.

"If your mother had cancer or your child had leukaemia you would want and expect them to be treated at a specialist hospital.

"So why should trauma care be any different? That is what the NHS is trying to do but it means in our region we have to take patients to London.

"If we pick someone up in Dover we can get them there in 45 minutes - a similar journey by road would take more than two hours."




SEE ALSO
Safety scare grounds helicopters
11 Aug 08 |  England

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