Farmers ‘extremely concerned’ about plans to move air ambulance base from mid-Wales
Farmers are “extremely concerned” about plans to move an air ambulance base from mid-Wales, a union has said.
Wales Air Ambulance has floated the idea of moving their Welshpool crew to the north of the country. That would leave mid-Wales covered by bases in Caernarfon, Llanelli and Cardiff.
Dr Sue Barnes, the Charity’s Chief Executive, said: “Through the trust that the public has placed in us over the past 21 years, we have been able to evolve into one of the most advanced air ambulance operations in Europe. We have a track record of making decisions with patients and their families at our heart.
“For people in Powys, it may seem counterintuitive that us moving away from their county would bring any benefits. But that is what our analysis is strongly conveying and it’s important to remember that we go to the patient, the patient doesn’t come to us.
“There is strong evidence that says this region, as well as every other part of Wales, will benefit from the proposed changes.”
The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) however said that the news was extremely concerning for rural members in mid-Wales.
FUW Montgomeryshire County Executive Officer Emyr Davies also raised concerns about suggestions that the north of Wales base could move from Caernarfon to elsewhere.
“The plans have come as a big shock to our members in Montgomeryshire and across mid-Wales, and it is a source of great worry,” he said.
We all know someone who has had their life saved by the Welshpool air ambulance, often because of the critical minutes and seconds saved as a result of having a service based in the heart of Wales.”
Emyr Davies said that many farmers and their family members were among those whose lives had been saved, as well as many others living in isolated communities in regions where accident and emergency centres have been closed and traditional services have been whittled away.
Wales Air Ambulance said that the proposals, which would include extending the hours covered by the helicopters from 12 hours to 18 per day, would allow its service to meet a greater demand for its service than at present, including attending more missions in Powys each year.
“However, it is unclear whether this estimated improvement in services is simply a result of the proposed 50% increase in hours of coverage, and whether the closure of bases such as the one in Welshpool is a separate issue that would actually reduce the quality of service in rural areas such as Montgomeryshire due to longer response times,” said Mr Davies.
“The bottom line is that it’s difficult to see how moving an air ambulance base from Wales’ most rural county would benefit Wales’ most rural areas,” he added.
Mr Davies said that the FUW had already contacted Wales Air Ambulance and that the charity had agreed to meet to discuss its proposals and the concerns of FUW members.
Wales Air Ambulance said that extensive independent data modelling suggests the most beneficial and efficient service delivery model for Wales is as follows:
- Move the Welshpool crews (including aircraft and rapid response vehicles) and locate them, with the north of Wales operation. Two helicopters, two crews, one location. The location in the north of Wales is under discussion.
- Extend the hours of operation from the above-mentioned base. One crew to operate 8am until 8pm and the other 2pm until 2am. The two crews in question currently operate 12 hours but this could increase to 18 hours, covering the peak periods of demand. Therefore patients in North Wales, Powys and Ceredigion with life or limb-threatening illness or injuries after 8pm will have a more localised response rather than needing the busy Cardiff-based overnight crew.
- Ensure that the aircraft are not scheduled for maintenance during peak times, e.g. summer (currently out of our control).
- Day-time helicopters to become night-vision capable allowing us to operate in the hours of darkness (dawn and dusk during day-time shifts, particularly during winter months with shorter daylight hours).
David Gilbert, the Charity’s Chair of Trustees, said: “We have already started the process of engaging with key stakeholders. We will keep everybody updated as we move through the analysis and decision process but it’s fair to say that any potential changes would not happen for some time.”
Dr Sue Barnes, Wales Air Ambulance Charity Chief Executive, said: “Through the trust that the public has placed in us over the past 21 years, we have been able to evolve into one of the most advanced air ambulance operations in Europe. We have a track record of making decisions with patients and their families at our heart.
“It’s important to remember that we go to the patient, the patient doesn’t come to us. There is strong evidence that says every part of Wales will benefit from the proposed changes.
“Our aim is always to make the best use of our donations by attending even more people in need. People have trusted us in the past and we’ve delivered. Whatever we decide to do moving forward, we really hope that people trust us once more.”
Speaking about the reason for the analysis, Dr Barnes said: “Our previous evaluation, published earlier this year, proved that we deliver an excellent standard of care for the people of Wales. More people are surviving because of our advanced service. Now we want to know whether we are delivering this excellent care equitably, and to as many people as possible, with our current resources.
“The air ambulance in Wales is 21 years old and has evolved significantly. Our focus has moved from getting patients to the nearest hospital to getting our advanced medics to the patient. We now operate via road as well as air. This is vital when aircraft are grounded for technical reasons or when flying conditions are poor. Current locations mean that patients in north and mid Wales suffer from a lack of this alternative provision as a result of poor road access – unlike their counterparts in south Wales.
“Also, our current aviation contract is up for renewal, presenting us with a once-in-a-decade opportunity to look at our current service provision. Any service enhancements identified would need to be included as a part of the contract with the successful bidder.
“Due to the current increase in the cost of goods and services, we are expecting a 30% increase in aviation costs, so it’s more important than ever that we are using public donations in the most efficient and effective way possible.”
The air ambulance service in Wales is a unique Third Sector and Public Sector partnership between the Wales Air Ambulance Charity and NHS Wales. They came together in 2015 to create the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS Cymru).
The Service’s consultants and critical care practitioners can deliver innovative emergency treatment across Wales, including minor operations, blood transfusions and anaesthesia. These were previously not available outside of a hospital environment.
While EMRTS Cymru supplies the medics, the Wales Air Ambulance Charity currently needs to raise £8 million a year to fund the helicopters and rapid response vehicles.
Professor David Lockey, EMRTS National Director and international authority on air ambulance operations, added: “From an NHS perspective we are delighted that the data suggests that with existing resources we can improve the coverage that the service provides to all regions in Wales. Increased utilisation of both helicopters and rapid response vehicles will enable us to attend hundreds more critically ill or injured patients when they most need us.
“The data clearly shows that we still have people across Wales that we are unable to attend, due to several factors, and at the same time, we have transport and clinicians who are underused in the current set up. That needs to change and the results of this analysis could help us deliver real benefits to our patients.”
The comprehensive data analysis involved a large volume of mission data that has been gathered from EMRTS databases, as well as from the other NHS Wales sources. This was supplemented by the significant five-year service evaluation, published in March 2022.
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