Experienced pilot rejoins Wiltshire Air Ambulance at new airbase

Experienced helicopter pilot Rob Backus says he is delighted to have rejoined Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

Rob flew the MD902 Explorer for three years when the charity was sharing the helicopter with Wiltshire Police.  When the joint helicopter contract came to an end in December 2014, Rob moved into Search and Rescue with Bristow Helicopters,
flying the Sikorsky 92 all round the UK.

Wiltshire Air Ambulance is now a stand-alone air ambulance and the charity is set
to move to its new airbase at Semington, near Melksham. 

Rob, said: “It’s great to be back. I leapt at the opportunity to rejoin Wiltshire Air Ambulance in our brand new purpose-built airbase, flying the latest generation helicopter and working alongside first class paramedics saving lives day and night.”

Rob was at the new airbase when the building was officially handed over to the charity last month and joined colleagues in watching Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s Bell 429 helicopter flying in and landing on the helipad for the first time.

He said: “Watching our helicopter fly in and land at the new airbase was a really special moment. The building looks absolutely fantastic and I think working there will make the charity more efficient, as the operational staff and the charity staff will both be there, and it will be a more welcoming facility for our supporters and patients to visit.”

Rob, who lives in Penselwood, Somerset, and is married with two daughters, has been a helicopter pilot for nineteen years and has flown 3,400 hours. 

He began flying at the age of seventeen thanks to a Royal Navy flying scholarship, before joining the Royal Navy for nineteen years. The final ten years of his military service were in the Fleet Air Arm flying the EH101 Merlin all round the world on operations. Rob was the first Royal Navy pilot to go through ab-initio training for the Merlin helicopter.

Rob knew all of the pilots and many of the paramedics at Wiltshire Air Ambulance before he re-joined in February as a full-time pilot. He had not flown a Bell 429 helicopter before, but has been impressed with its features.

“It’s more hi-tech and modern, particularly with electronic screens. It’s also a fast helicopter, it’s smooth and has sufficient space in the back for the patient and paramedics. It’s a very clearly laid out aircraft and I like the display in the cockpit,” he said.

Wiltshire Air Ambulance has to raise £3.25 million a year to keep flying and saving lives and Rob is full of admiration for everyone who fundraises for the charity, supported by the hard-working fundraising and administrative team. 

He said: “Everyone who donates or fundraises for us makes a huge difference. Any donation, however small, helps to keep us flying and saving lives.”

A keen sports enthusiast, Rob is going to be fundraising for Wiltshire Air Ambulance by running the Bath Half Marathon in 2019, postponed from this year due to snowy conditions. He has also uploaded a photo for the heli mosaic which will be created at the new airbase.

Dreams come true for terminally ill Jamie

Paramedics from South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) helped to make 10-year-old Jamie’s dream come true when they trained him up to become a ‘paramedic’ for the day. 

Jamie has the terminal genetic condition Neurofibromatosis, which causes tumours to grow along his nerves. Despite not being very well, Jamie likes playing paramedic games at home. His greatest wish is to become a member of the emergency services, helping other people.

The event was organised by Rays of Sunshine, a children’s charity who help brighten the lives of children who are living with serious or life-limiting illnesses.

Jamie said: “I feel honoured to be chosen to work as a paramedic for the day. I would like to thank everyone for making my wish come true.”

Jamie’s day began at the SWASFT North Bristol Operations Centre where paramedics taught him some basic life-saving techniques. Jamie then travelled to the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC) airfield, learning how the critical care team use their specialist skills and equipment to treat the most critically ill patients at the scene of an incident.

Jamie’s mum, Mary, said:  “Jamie’s expectations for his wish day were totally surpassed, all thanks to the Rays of Sunshine organisation, and SWASFT ambulance/air ambulance services. This was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, not only for Jamie, but for us all! We could have never have fulfilled Jamie’s wish to become a real life paramedic without help from Rays of Sunshine. Jamie and ourselves would like to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts.”

Rebecca Wilson, Paramedic Learning and Development Officer, for SWASFT said: “We really enjoyed having Jamie train with us. We put together a number of emergency training scenarios with our manikin HAL (a Gaumard high-fidelity manikin) who can replicate any medical emergency. Jamie enjoyed responding to the incidents in our emergency ambulance on full blue lights and sirens. He’s amazing and took on board all our clinical instruction. He’s definitely a future paramedic in the making.

“Now Jamie can do basic life support, he can take blood pressure and temperature as well as checking vital observations and give life-saving CPR compressions which he carried out on HAL and other crew members. Jamie can also give lifestyle and eating advice to keep people healthy and scoop and load patients onto a trolley.  He was really fun to have over, and we all wish him all the very best from the team at South Western Ambulance Service.  A big thank-you to the crew that helped on the day.”

Rebecca Miller, PR and Digital Communications Manager for GWAAC, said: “It was a pleasure to welcome Jamie and his family to the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity air base, and to help make his wish come true. Members of our Critical Care team – a crew of specialist paramedics and doctors – ran through some simulations with Jamie, and he got the opportunity to meet the pilot and sit in the helicopter and Critical Care cars. We had a great afternoon showing Jamie the ropes and we were impressed with his paramedic skills!”

Jane Sharpe, CEO of Rays of Sunshine, added: “We couldn’t be more thankful to Great Western Air Ambulance Charity and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust for helping us pull off such an incredible wish. Every day Rays of Sunshine gives brave and deserving young people the chance to put their illness on hold and Jamie’s wish is no exception.”

Community Responder Falls Project wins patient safety award

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) has won a national award for a new initiative to improve patient care in local communities.
SWASFT was given the Best Care of Older People accolade at the Health Service Journal’s 2018 Patient Safety Awards in July.
The scheme involves Community First Responders (CFRs) across the region who attend incidents in which patients have had a non injury fall, but are unable to get up. Responders can now assess and move patients from the floor to a sitting or standing position, using a lifting device and with support from clinicians in 999 Control Hubs. The initiative means more rontline resources, such as ambulances, are freed-up for higher priority calls.
Rich Buckley, SWASFT Acting Responder Manager, said: “This is a fantastic recognition of all the efforts of the whole project team. Moreover it is a wonderful acknowledgment of the hard work put in by our trained Responders. They give their time freely to support patients in their local communities in a robust and safe way. Without them this fantastic scheme could not work.
“The NHS is built on a spirit of giving and going the extra mile for patients, and our Responders epitomise that spirit. In my twenty three years of service, this award is one of the things I’m most proud of.”
According to clinical research, one in three people over the age of 65 who live at home fall during a twelve month period. Non-injury falls patients had faced lengthy waits for ambulance services, because their call was not deemed to be high priority compared to other patients in life threatening conditions.
The concept was developed in 2017 as a way to attend and assess these patients more quickly, developing the skills and experience of CFRs and with help from clinicians.
Nigel Toms, an experienced CFR, tested the concept by attending a selected number of appropriate incidents with a lifting device. He was able to manage the vast majority of the patients effectively, without needing any additional crew. During a six-month trial involving more than 300 incidents, CFRS successfully assessed and lifted around three in four patients without the need for an ambulance to attend.  More than sixty CFR groups in the South West are now participating in this scheme. The benefits of the project are:
  • Patient experience: an enhanced response to non-injury falls, reducing waiting times and enabling frontline crews to be more available for life threatening incidents.
  • Increased skill set of Responders: they now take a temperature, blood glucose reading, blood pressure, pulse rate and respiratory rate as standard. 
  • Financial and time savings: through more effective deployment of resources. Some of the monetary savings have been invested to purchase more lifting devices. 
  • Proactive response to the ageing population: today there are three times more people over the age of 90 than there were in 1984. 
The judges said about the entry: “This winning entry showed impressive scalability and particularly speaks to the principles of social change in the five year forward plan. The project showed great enthusiasm and a genuine drive to improve patient care and the judges felt this was a truly deserving winner.”
CFRs are trained volunteers who attend emergency incidents on behalf of SWASFT within their local communities. They respond to particular types of 999 calls where it is essential for the patient to receive immediate lifesaving care. These include conditions such as cardiac arrest, chest pain, breathing difficulties, unconscious patients, fitting and strokes. There are around 1,000 CFRs providing lifesaving support to patients across the region.
SWASFT covers one of the most rural areas of the UK, and is committed to providing the population of the South West with the highest standard of out-of-hospital care.

Toby undertakes sea expedition after paramedics saved his life

An outdoors enthusiast is taking on a brave sea expedition less than a year after South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust paramedics saved his life at a motorway service station.

Toby Carr, 36, was taken ill with pneumococcal meningitis whilst driving eastbound on the M4 in Wiltshire on New Year’s Day. His condition was life-threatening and he needed urgent medical treatment.

The SWASFT paramedic crew, Jan Lukas and Paul Murphy, treated him at Leigh Delamere services near Chippenham and prevented any serious long-term effects of his illness.

Toby said: “The paramedics not only saved my life, but managed to check on me in hospital afterwards. This show of care and compassion for a stranger in need was amazing and has touched me deeply. I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me. I’m so happy to be alive.”

Toby, who lives in London and works as an architect and university tutor, has gone on to make a full recovery. His ambitious challenge of paddling a sea kayak to all 31 locations of the Shipping Forecast began
on 28 May.

Toby said: “A friend said to me: ‘There’s nothing like surviving a near-death experience to make you feel alive.’ I have a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm for life. I want to make the most of it, pushing myself, and having experiences I never thought possible.”

Toby was born with a rare genetic condition. He has survived multiple health complications, including cancer, and has endured various family bereavements. He has always strived to lead an active life.

At the time of the emergency Toby had an impaired immune system following a bone marrow transplant. But the actual cause of the infection remains unclear.

Toby began to feel ill whilst travelling back from visiting friends in the Wye Valley. He experienced sickness and headaches at the wheel, but managed to reach the service station. Then his breathing slowed down, and he struggled to stay awake.

A friend dialled 999 to alert the SWASFT Control Hub who organised emergency help for him. The crew reached the barely conscious Toby and assessed his condition.

Paramedic Jan said: “We were very concerned that Mr Carr had meningitis. That was practically the worst case scenario for him.”

They inserted a small tube into one of Toby’s veins and administered antibiotics. Then they took him by ambulance to the Great Western Hospital in Swindon where he remained for almost two weeks.

Pneumococcal meningitis is a serious infectious disease that causes inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges). It can cause life-threatening septicemia and result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

There are around 200 reported cases of pneumococcal meningitis each year in the UK. Around a quarter of patients have severe and disabling after-effects and one in six cases result in death. But most people make a good recovery. The condition requires rapid admission to hospital and urgent treatment with antibiotics.

Jan said: “We would advise people to be aware of the symptoms including headaches, photophobia (light sensitivity), vomiting, a non-fading rash, and altered consciousness. There is a particular risk to children and people with compromised immunity as meningitis is very infectious.”

You can follow his adventure and track his location on his Twitter @kayakforecast

Photos: Michal Madera, sixknots.net