All Party Praise for UK Air Ambulances

3 months ago

A reception held by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Air Ambulances (APPGAA) took place on the House of Commons Terrace, Westminster on 26 June 2018. The event, hosted by Chairman of the APPGAA Jim Fitzpatrick MP for Poplar and Limehouse, gave members of both Houses of Parliament the opportunity to meet with representatives from air ambulance charities and ambulance services.

A total of 210 attendees came together and used the opportunity to highlight and discuss many of the key issues that affect the sector.

Jim began proceedings by explaining how privileged he was to be able to continue conducting the Chairman’s role. He then highlighted the fact that a senior member of Government has attended every APPGAA reception since its formation, with this year’s event being no exception.

Jim introduced James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

“As Communities Secretary, it is my privilege to be here and acknowledge the work and important contribution that you are all making in quite literally saving people’s lives. It is the model of the Air Ambulance that has struck me so keenly. Before my current role, I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at a time when the Air Ambulance in Northern Ireland (with the support of Libor funding), literally got off the ground. To be able to go and visit them and see the integrated model that all of you have between the Health Service, the helicopter crew and the charitable organisations that underpin everything, was so striking. I know how connected you all are and what a difference that made to Northern Ireland in that short space of time.

More recently, I had the privilege of visiting London’s Air Ambulance and heard some of the different challenges that each of you face and meet every day.

It is great to have the APPGAA to be able to give voice to your work here in Parliament and this really is ALL Party. We recognise the huge benefit you are delivering, with so much based on volunteering and charitable fundraising, to ensure that the amazing professionals such as aircrew and medical teams can deliver on the ground. I assure you, there is recognition in Government and in Parliament of the amazing work you do day in, day out.

We do not take that for granted at all; the difference that you are making in the lives of so many people, people who would have died without your intervention, is what makes you all special. It is therefore a privilege for me, on behalf of my Parliamentary colleagues and the Government to say thank you so very much.”

Jim Fitzpatrick MP then introduced Paula Martin, Chair of the Association of Air Ambulances who took the opportunity to highlight some of the key issues affecting the Air Ambulance sector both operationally and within fundraising.

Paula said: “The Association understands the requirements to introduce the new and upgraded Airwave Replacement Programme (ARP) and supports the positive work to future proof radio communications utilised by all emergency services. Well publicised delays in the process to identify the equipment, roll out and fit to the fleet of rotary aircraft are causing concern.

We are seeking re-assurance from the Home Office that the emergency services will only transition when we are satisfied that there is no reduction in any of the capabilities we have already in place through the current communication system, which is fully integrated with our responding agencies and staff. We also need to see a clear plan put in place to mitigate the risk of aircraft unavailability while the radio installation works are carried out, and each charity’s ability to provide the life-saving pre-hospital emergency service throughout the transition period. Our member charities require assurance that all costs to in relation to procurement or installation of new systems will be fully met by Government.

“The second key issue for the Association is the Helicopter Landing Site Network.
Where distances are great, time is of the essence and advanced and enhanced skills are needed urgently, the use of air ambulances is embedded and a key part to our national response plans for the most critically ill and injured patients. That may be at the roadside in the pre-hospital setting or at times from a place of care to a specialist centre to manage specific injuries or illness.

There has been progress in some areas with the improvement and access times for some of our key hospitals, however there is still not an infrastructure in place that supports all areas of operation throughout the UK. Our updated Helipad report has identified some clear gaps which are a concern not only to the Air Ambulance Community, but also to UKSAR and NPAS. The NHS used to include a requirement for helipad infrastructure in its building note for hospitals, but the requirement was later dropped. The Association is calling for this to be reintroduced as a priority.

The third operational key issue is Flight Time Limitations. Working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the British Helicopter Association (BHA) and our Aircraft Operators, we fully support, the safeguarding of our Helicopter Emergency Medical Services and promote any area that will further improve safety for all areas of the operation.

However, we are still not fully clear of what impact, if any, future EASA ruling on Flight Time Limitations, will have on our teams and or operational response capability. We continue to work in partnership with organisations involved in this process and are seeking support to ensure that any changes that are being considered should cause as little impact on our operational availability to or services whilst ensuring safety is at the forefront.”

Paula then explained a future key issue likely to affect a high number of the Association’s membership over the next five years is the cap restriction placed on local charities for their society lottery fundraising. The Association welcomes the opportunity to provide responses to any consultations and ministerial enquiries on this subject, highlighting the importance of this vital fundraising for its charity members.

Finally, Paula took the time to pay sincere thanks to Jim Fitzpatrick MP for leading the APPGAA before also expressing thanks to the MPs who attended the event and those who engage with the sector to help resolve challenges, either through changes in regulation, or by assisting with grants such as Libor.

The AAA, which represents the majority of air ambulance charities, ambulance services and the supply chain throughout the UK, supported the reception for the sixth year, bringing patients, charities, ambulance services and legislators together.

More information on the APPGAA, Association of Air Ambulances and the air ambulance community can be found by visiting: https://www.aoaa.org.uk

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