Rich Marlow, Deputy Head of Specialist Practice at the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, kindly provided us with a testimonial in support of our entry into this year’s Somerset Business Awards...

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is a local charity that has provided critical care for our communities for over 20 years, responding 365 days a year to medical and trauma patients in their hour of greatest need.

The service responds on behalf of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust, to emergencies received through the 999 system, with the critical care team of paramedics, nurses and doctors, bringing life-saving hospital skills direct to the scene of the emergency.

The primary response of Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is by helicopter to get to the patients as quickly as possible, stabilising them and then caring for them until they reach the best hospital for ongoing treatment. In our rural area, being able to fly patients to specialist centres of care is essential for the best possible outcome.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in 2020, all air ambulances were immediately stopped under civil aviation authority regulations, from conveying any patients who may be infected, and as numbers rose across the country, the assumption had to be made that any patient could be infectious. Very quickly, the team did a lot of analysis of all the emerging evidence about COVID-19 and started to draw up practices and procedures to be able to transport critically unwell patients by air again. These detailed plans included comprehensive personal protective equipment for the clinicians and pilots, reviewing and adapting of all standard operating procedures, overcoming communication challenges and devising decontamination regimes for the helicopter and equipment, quickly developing these while still responding to the daily emergencies.

The newly formulated plans were then presented to the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, Public Health England, the Civil Aviation Authority and Specialist Aviation Services, with the regulations being changed to allow the conveyance of patients by air ambulance.

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance led the way for the whole country, being the first to have full approval for the conveyance of COVID-19 patients, with other air ambulances following this lead. This was driven by the passion of all the team, to mitigate all the challenges through innovation, training and a lot of hard work often when not on duty. Many of the new ways of working make the normal very complex tasks significantly harder for the clinicians to complete, often with great personal discomfort.

Patients are now flown on a regular basis, very safely which has proved invaluable as we continue to live and work through these unprecedented times, saving lives and reducing suffering across the two counties and beyond.