Angels of the sky

15 October 2019 | London and South East England

Gareth Grier next to helicopter

London’s Air Ambulance celebrates its 30th anniversary this year

London’s Air Ambulance and its dedicated teams of paramedics and emergency doctors have been saving lives across the capital for 30 years.

Since its launch in 1989, the charity has treated more than 40,000 people and crews have attended incidents ranging from terrorist attacks to disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire. It’s a formidable demonstration of people helping people at its very best.

For all of that time, the helicopter has most often been scrambled to deliver lifesaving treatment at the scene of road accidents in the community.

But now for the first time, they are treating more victims of stabbings than any other incident.

Gareth Grier,  clinical lead for pre-hospital care, said: “This year stabbings have replaced road traffic accidents as the leading reason that we despatch the helicopter. Around 30% of cases we attend today are stabbing victims.”

But while the challenges they face may change, the focus of the London Air Ambulance remains the same - to save the lives of people who would otherwise die before they reached hospital.

And they are always developing new treatments and techniques. For instance, the charity is currently launching a landmark new study designed to reduce deaths due to catastrophic bleeding.

They are trialling a new blood product - red blood cells and plasma - which can be given as a transfusion to patients at risk of bleeding to death before arriving at hospital. The study is a first for UK air ambulances, and aims to improve the survival chances of hundreds of patients.

And in 2016, a team from LAA won the Emergency Services award at Pride of Britain for using a groundbreaking technique to save the life of a young cyclist. The medics saved 24-year-old Victoria Lebrec by carrying out a rare and complex heart procedure at the roadside  to prevent her from bleeding to death.

And they have pioneered treatments such as performing open heart surgery and using state-of-the-art brain scanners at the roadside.

Before London’s Air Ambulance, seriously injured patients were dying due to the delay in receiving hospital treatment. The Air Ambulance provides care that was previously only available in hospital, at the scene of an incident.

Gareth said: “We were founded after a report concluded that 30% of deaths were preventable. We were at the forefront of taking treatment out of the hospital and onto the street.

“It had become clear that not only was there a ‘golden hour’ to save a patient’s life, but that every second counted.”

Nowadays, a helicopter can be in the air within four minutes and they average around six jobs a day. “One of our flight paramedics sits in the control room and makes the call. If we are even two minutes late, that can be the difference between life and death,” added Gareth. 

The charity has been chosen as a TSB Local Charity Partner by the bank’s new Cheapside branch in the city of London.