20 Years By Your Side

For the last 20 years we have been by the side of people across Dorset and Somerset and you have been with us all the way. We have been tasked to thousands of missions and have helped to save so many lives. During this time, our service has been able to improve and enhance beyond recognition; none of this would have been possible without your support!

The need for our service is rising year on year; we must make sure we continue to be there for the next 20 years and beyond. Your support is vital; we simply can’t do this without you!

We would love you to join us today and support our '20 Years By Your Side' Campaign!

Your donations and brilliant fundraising really do make a difference to patients' lives, thank you!

Over the past two decades, the changes on the clinical side have certainly been significant. To keep pace with these improvements, it has also been essential to update our aircraft to ensure we are delivering the best possible service to our patients...

The BO 105 helicopter served us well for seven years, but in 2007 we decided to upgrade to a more modern aircraft, the EC135. This twin-engine utility helicopter was primarily used by the police and emergency medical services and it offered major improvements in terms of increased space, more payload and enhanced safety.

Fast forward 10 years and developments in our clinical landscape meant that another change of aircraft was necessary. The decision was driven in part by the establishment of the NHS’s National Trauma Network, which pooled expertise and facilities into major trauma centres (MTCs) around the country. These MTCs became the preferred destination for all patients suffering major trauma, but one did not exist in Dorset or Somerset, meaning that patients who would have previously been taken to the county hospitals must now be flown to Southampton, Bristol or Plymouth.

While the increased flight time to the MTCs was only a matter of minutes, those minutes could often mean the difference between life and death for a critically ill or injured patient. This meant that our clinical team needed more access to a patient en-route to hospital should clinical intervention be required.

Patient benefit has always been the charity’s top priority and this was the single biggest criteria in selecting a new aircraft. As this line of thought developed, the reasoning became clear: if a patient is at the centre of our thinking and in the centre of treatment on scene, then should the patient not also be at the centre of the cabin of the air ambulance?

Once this logic was applied, the choice of a  successor aircraft was quite straightforward, as not all options offered the necessary cabin format to meet this requirement. Once other factors such as cost, safety and potential for night operations were also considered, it
turned out that only one aircraft provided the solution to all these needs: the AgustaWestland 169 (AW169).

Specialist Aviation Services would operate the helicopter on our behalf and they worked closely with our clinicians to develop a medical interior that enabled them to fully meet the needs of our patients.

This approach meant that the AW169 had to undergo very intense scrutiny by the European Aviation Safety Agency before it could become operational. Our existing pilots underwent conversion training to the new aircraft, which included training for night HEMS missions, and two further pilots who were already qualified joined the team.

On 12th June 2017, G-DSAA became the first AW169 helicopter to enter air ambulance operational service in the UK. While the medical equipment on board was not too much different to that which was carried on the EC135, the biggest difference was the increased space inside the cabin, which allowed our team to have 360º access to a patient; a significant benefit if a patient needed further intervention or treatment en-route to hospital.

A competition was launched in Autumn 2017 to find a name for the new aircraft. A judging panel decided on the winning entry, ‘Pegasus’, which was announced at a formal unveiling ceremony at the start of 2018.

NEXT: Operating the AW169 in an air ambulance role