Clubbing together to fund the nation’s critical Air Ambulances

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Motor clubs throughout the country boast a marvellous record of raising significant funds for very good local and national causes. As one of many, many worthy examples the Bath Motor Club has generated around £4,500 for Great Western Air Ambulance Charity over the past eight years via a popular Classic Tour it has been running.

“The donations come from the entrants as part of the entry fee and also any profit the club makes on this particular event,” explained Martin Moore, the club’s competition secretary. “Fortunately we have not needed an Air Ambulance yet on our events, but they are regularly active in this area, and rarely does a day go by when I do not see the helicopter in the sky over where I live.”

Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC) – which provides a critical care and air ambulance service for 2.1 million people across Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire, North Somerset, and parts of Wiltshire – is one of 21 Air Ambulance charities covering the United Kingdom. Each is an independent charity that raises its own funds as they receive no funding from the NHS or central government.

This, of course, presents huge fund-raising challenges but does mean each charity can tailor their offering to the specific needs of the area they serve – GWAAC, for example, operates one helicopter and three critical care cars; all four carrying the essential medical equipment required to deliver pre-hospital critical care as well as a Critical Care Doctor and a Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care.

Contrary to what many think, the primary objective of the air ambulance is not to transfer patients to hospital (typically only about five per cent of the patients attended are transferred by helicopter) nor to access patients in hard-to-reach areas. The primary aim is to take the skills and equipment of a hospital emergency department directly to wherever the patient is, whether that be a motorway, place of work or someone’s home, so critical care can be delivered as quickly as possible.

Whether the helicopter or a car is dispatched will depend on weather conditions, time of day, if the helicopter is already attending another incident and how best to get to the incident location the fastest – sometimes that is by road. Typically, a vehicle will be dispatched within four minutes of it being requested by the emergency call centre and normally they aim to arrive on location within 20 minutes. This means life-saving care can be provided quickly in situations where every minute counts.

Having a doctor in the crew means emergency procedures can be performed that paramedics alone may not be able to do, including sedation, intubation and surgical procedures such as tracheostomies, emergency caesareans and even amputations and open-heart surgery, if required.

Once a patient is stable, the GWAAC crew will determine which hospital is best suited to the patient’s needs – it is not necessarily the closest – and ensure they are transported there, usually via land ambulance where it is easier to deliver ongoing critical care if needed, although a member of the GWAAC team may accompany the patient all the way to hospital.

Every one of these often life-saving missions costs approximately £2,000 to cover the costs of the helicopter or car, crew, specialist equipment and drugs. Hence the urgent need for generous donations such as those raised by so many Motorsport UK registered Motor Clubs up and down the country.