ON the day that the Wales Air Ambulance Charity marks its 21st birthday, a report published today, March 1 2022, has revealed that seriously injured trauma patients attended by the service have a significantly increased chance of survival.

Wales Air Ambulance, which attends life and limb-threatening emergencies, has become an important part of the critical care provision within Wales. It attends patients who have suffered a serious medical issue as well as those who have received a trauma to the body. 

The findings of an in-depth five-year evaluation of the service show that there is a significant 37% reduction in deaths within 30 days amongst patients who received the emergency department-standard care provided by the service’s medics at the scene of an incident.

The service has also seen a 41% reduction in secondary transfers for patients, vastly exceeding its original target of 30%. A secondary transfer is when an emergency patient is taken to a healthcare facility, usually the nearest to the incident, who then requires a transfer to another hospital that can offer them the specialist care that they need. Due to advanced decision-making at the scene of an incident, the service’s medics are able to diagnose the specific needs of a patient and take them directly to the appropriate healthcare facility. This further reduces the time it takes for a patient to receive the specialist care that they need while saving the NHS time and money by avoiding a secondary transfer.

The introduction of an advanced service has also attracted more medics to work in Wales. In the last five years, twelve consultants have taken up roles in Welsh hospitals because of the opportunity to work with the Wales Air Ambulance.

The evaluation has been independently scrutinised by Swansea University, with support from Health Data Research UK and Monash University in Australia. It included the use of Swansea University’s world-class anonymised databank called SAIL to compare the service’s operational and patient recovery figures with data from 9 billion patient records worldwide.

The report, which examined the 9,952 missions attended by the service between 2015 and 2020, also reveals that 63% (6,018) of patients received advanced lifesaving treatments. This included 313 people who required a blood transfusion and 790 people who received anaesthesia.

The evaluation covers a five-year period starting in 2015, the year when an enhanced medical operation was introduced to the Wales Air Ambulance. A unique Third Sector and Public Sector partnership between the Wales Air Ambulance Charity and NHS Wales saw the creation of the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS Cymru). As a result, the service became consultant-led and transformed into a ‘flying emergency department’, taking hospital-standard treatments to the patient at the scene of an incident.

The service’s consultants and critical care practitioners are able to deliver innovative emergency treatment across Wales, including minor operations, blood transfusions and anaesthesia. These were previously not available outside of a hospital environment.

However, the service is not just provided by air. The medics can also deliver their lifesaving treatments by road in the Charity’s fleet of rapid response vehicles. 

While NHS Wales supplies the medics, the Wales Air Ambulance Charity needs to raise £8 million a year to fund the helicopters and rapid response vehicles.

Wales Air Ambulance now operates 24/7, with the introduction of an overnight service in 2020.

Dr Sue Barnes, Wales Air Ambulance Charity Chief Executive, said: “In the two decades since the launch of the Wales Air Ambulance Charity on this day in 2001, we have evolved into a vital critical care operation. Our mission and vision are focused on delivering our lifesaving medical service whenever and wherever it is needed, alongside improving the lives of those we serve by being a world leader in what we do. This report offers tangible evidence of how we are achieving our aims. 

“Our ability to do this is thanks to our dedicated Charity, medical and aviation teams, however, it would not be possible without the incredible support from the people of Wales. It is because of their generosity that we have one of the most advanced air ambulance operations in the world and there are no words to convey our thanks. 

“The key for us now is to ensure that as many people as possible in Wales can benefit from our lifesaving care. With our medical partners, we continually monitor and evaluate our mission data and areas of unmet need to identify any service improvements that can be made.”

Professor David Lockey, EMRTS Cymru National Director, said “This evaluation is one of the most extensive done by any air ambulance operation anywhere in the world. It clearly demonstrates that the advanced medical provision we offer is delivering benefits for the people of Wales, as well as the NHS. We must pay tribute to those in the Charity, NHS Wales and Welsh Government who set up and supported the introduction of our consultant-led service. We also recognise the passion and commitment of all those, past and present, who have worked hard to deliver this service, as well as the Charity’s supporters, without whom our service would not exist.

“We are also incredibly proud and grateful to work alongside our colleagues in the Welsh Ambulance Service and in health boards across Wales. Together, we are able to offer the best possible care for people across the country.”