We are tasked as part of the ‘999’ emergency process by a dedicated Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) desk located at Ambulance Control (paid for by the South West Air Ambulance Charities).

The air ambulance charities in the South West work closely together to ensure that we provide mutual aid. When a patient’s life is in danger, boundaries are not important. No matter who or where you are, the most appropriate air ambulance will be dispatched, ensuring you receive that all important urgent pre-hospital care.

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is tasked by a dedicated Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) desk, located at the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust clinical hub in Exeter.

Paid for by the five air ambulance charities it serves Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, Devon Air Ambulance, Cornwall Air Ambulance, Great Western Air Ambulance Charity and Wiltshire Air Ambulance. The HEMS desk is staffed by specific dispatchers who understand the capabilities of air ambulances and the regulations that govern our deployment. These individuals play a crucial role in deciding where and when our helicopter is deployed. They can also call on support from the Coastguard, Police and Search and Rescue should the need arise. 

The HEMS desk itself is just one of many stations sitting in a dimmed clinical hub, enlightened by hundreds of computer screens amid the low yet constant hubbub of voices taking 999 calls. The dispatchers have a bank of four computer screens which help them monitor every emergency call made to the control room.

Deploying the Air Ambulance

There are a number of factors that are taken into account before an air ambulance is deployed. Once these have been made, the aircrew are notified. A mapping system on one of the dispatchers screens allows them to identify the location of the incident down to house level. This enables them to appraise landing conditions and give the aircrew an idea of how close they may be able to get to the incident. Ultimately however, the pilot will decide of a safe landing location, once overhead.

It is often the case that our land crew colleagues arrive at the scene first, however there are times when the air ambulance is first on scene. The HEMS desk dispatchers coordinate and update each unit with respective timings together with an update on the patient's status.

Our Airbase - Henstridge Airfield

Our airbase is situated at Henstridge Airfield on the Dorset/Somerset border. From there, we can be at any point in the two counties in less than 20 minutes. More importantly, the helicopter can, if required, then take a patient to the nearest Major Trauma Centre in the South West within a further 20 minutes.

Rapid Transfer to the 'Right' Facility

Providing a rapid transfer to the 'right' facility is a key factor in a patient's survival and recovery rate. Although we fly regularly to many local hospitals, there is often a case to transfer a patient to a specialist unit or one of the Major Trauma Centres in the South West.

These local and specialist hospitals are listed below:

Specialist Units

Major Trauma Centres:

  • Southmead Hospital - Bristol*
  • University Hospital - Southampton*
  • Derriford Hospital - Plymouth*
  • Bristol Children’s Hospital*

Specialist Burns Unit:

  • Morriston Hospital - Swansea

Local Hospitals

  • Bristol Royal Infirmary*
  • Dorset County Hospital - Dorchester*
  • Musgrove Park Hospital - Taunton*
  • Poole Hospital
  • Royal Bournemouth General Hospital*
  • Royal Devon & Exeter - Exeter*
  • Royal United Hospital - Bath*
  • Salisbury District Hospital
  • Yeovil District Hospital
  • Weston General Hospital*

* These hospitals have a helicopter landing site adjacent to the Emergency Department. Others require a transfer from the hospital landing site.