In the second of our series of crew interviews, we get to know more about Advanced Clinical Practitioner (ACP) Matt Sawyer, following his triumph at this year’s Air Ambulances UK (AAUK) Awards of Excellence.

matt sawyer portrait

Firstly, congratulations on being awarded Critical Care Practitioner of the Year. How does it feel to receive this special award?

Being shortlisted for these awards, let alone winning, was a surprise for me. Especially as I work alongside colleagues and friends at Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance (DSAA) and beyond who do truly amazing things for patients day in and day out. I am incredibly grateful, completely honoured and really proud to be part of such a great team.

How long have you worked for DSAA?

I’ve worked at DSAA since 2018. I work part-time for DSAA, so I spend alternate weeks delivering pre-hospital care with the air ambulance and the next week working in the Emergency Department at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

What does it mean to be an Advanced Clinical Practitioner in Critical Care?

I’m a paramedic by professional background, but being an ACP means I’ve had additional academic and clinical training to develop further knowledge and skills. This means I have an expanded scope of practice to better meet the needs of people with critical illness or injury. As an ACP, I’ve developed additional clinical capabilities and taken on organisational responsibilities beyond a specialist practitioner in critical care. The different components of the role involve clinical practice, leadership, education and research.

What do you most enjoy about working with DSAA?

Ah, that’s a tough question as there are so many things. I think I most enjoy the team coming together to deliver the care that patients need. There are days when I still can’t quite believe I get to do this for a job. I love that you have to be dynamic and change focus or task quickly and that it’s often physically active and outside.

When a call comes in to help a patient, how do you feel?

As soon as the phone or radio goes you start to react. There’s a little buzz of nervous anticipation while the details start to come in; I focus on calming that down and starting to think. ‘Where’s the case, what’s the best way there? What type of injuries or critical illness might they have; and what medicines or procedures might they need?’ I try to take some deep breaths and put all these thoughts into a framework/mental model; and as a team, we often talk through these elements on the way to the scene.

What are the toughest challenges you’ve had at work?

I think there are two things I find the toughest. The first is breaking difficult news to patients or families. It’s never easy and the more I have to do it, the tougher it gets. The second is when you know there’s a patient who you could bring benefit to, but aren’t able to deliver that for some reason. It’s often something beyond your control like bad weather, or they’re so unwell that they deteriorate incredibly fast. There’s a challenge inherent in pre-hospital care that I embrace and step towards; it’s balancing the delivery of the highlevel medicine the patient needs, with what’s possible in the situation or environment, all while being on the move.

What’s your biggest professional achievement to date?

There are lots of things I’m proud of, like the AAUK award and being credentialed as an ACP by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and projects that I’ve delivered to improve patient care, or expand the team or practitioner’s capabilities. But there are a few cases I hold close in my heart and mind that I’ll never forget and I come back to them when things are tough. They’re the cases where I know I’ve truly made a difference to a patient, their family, or even a colleague.

How does it feel when you meet a patient, knowing that you have helped to save their life?

Ah, that deep sense of joy and relief is just too much to put into words. I wish I could describe it! It’s just remarkable and humbling to see patients recover and return to life with their families and friends. I’m always amazed at the journeys our patients go through and so proud that we support people through the prehospital part of their journey. That said, our incredible patient and family liaison nurses are there with them for very much longer.

You’re the Site Principal Investigator at DSAA for the National SWiFT Trial, what does that involve?

The SWiFT trial is run by NHS Blood & Transplant and the aim is to evaluate the clinical and cost-effectiveness of whole blood transfusion compared to standard care (transfusion of different component parts of blood) in life-threatening traumatic bleeding. There are 10 air ambulances involved and many more hospitals. Being the Site Principal Investigator means I’m responsible for the delivery and conduct of the research at DSAA, by ensuring we follow the design of the trial precisely, collecting all the required data, training the team and making sure they have all the resources needed to deliver the trial in Dorset and Somerset.

And you’re also developing an advanced practice framework for future generations, you’re a very busy man indeed!

Well, this is a huge, long-running task and an even bigger team effort! There are lots of people involved from multiple air ambulances operating within the South Western Ambulance Service. We’re all contributing to help develop our practitioners (specialist paramedics and nurses) to expand their knowledge, skills and broader professional capabilities to care for critically ill or injured patients across the whole region.

When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your spare time?

I’d like to spend my time exploring the outdoors with my family!! How I actually spend my time is mostly clearing up after my kids or ferrying them around! What’s your secret talent/party trick? I make an epic risotto, which I sneak vegetables in without my children realising! Oh, and I can make a dog (or giraffe) out of modelling balloons.

What’s your secret talent/party trick?

I make an epic risotto, which I sneak vegetables in without my children realising! Oh, and I can make a dog (or giraffe) out of modelling balloons.

What’s your favourite life quote?

“Let me not beg for the stilling of pain, but the heart to conquer it.” I heard it a long time ago from a Royal Marine Commando. I think of it every time I go for a run. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that life is so precious and you never know when it might change; you’ve got to make the most of it and spend it with those you love. A cliché but true.

If you could spend the day with your idol (past or present), who would it be and why?

It’s cheesy, but my Grandfather was a totally amazing man. I only realised after he died how much he did for me and how important he was in my life. So I’d like at least another day with him please!