Alastair Wilson is a man on a mission. As founder of the London HEMS and as a distinguished emergency surgeon, he is used to blue-sky thinking. But by any standards, his plans for the East Anglian Air Ambulance are boldly ambitious.
Alastair is the medical director of the Charity, and he has agreed to share his ideas with me over a coffee at EAAA’s Cambridge base. He talks fast, and jumps from topic to topic; restlessly rounding out his vision. I confess I’m finding it difficult to keep up. But even before that vision has come fully into view, I’ve been infected by his enthusiasm. It is impossible not to share his excitement. Imagine: a fully operational helipad, located close to the accident and emergency department, available 24 hours a day, at every single hospital in the region.
“In emergency medicine, minutes matter,” Alastair explains. “And a comprehensive network of helipads across the region would make an enormous difference to the outcomes of traumatic injury.”
Traumatic injury causes internal bleeding; and that requires immediate surgical intervention, to give the patient the best chance of survival. Thoracic surgery, to stop bleeding, is often carried out at the scene of injury because the source or cause of the bleeding is more easily identifiable; usually the lungs or heart.
But internal abdominal bleeding is tricky to locate, and so surgery is most effectively carried out in the hospital with the aid of CT scans. And that can, in turn, lead to difficult decisions as to which hospital to take a patient.
In emergency medicine, minutes matter, and a comprehensive network of helipads across the region would make an enormous difference to the outcomes of traumatic injury.
Obviously, a patient who is very seriously injured needs to get to a major trauma unit fast. But that may be a significant distance away. Trauma is a disease of time; and so, as Alastair emphasises: minutes matter! If every hospital had a fully operational helipad, it would be possible to take the patient to the nearest hospital to deal with the internal bleeding. Once the patient was stable, the waiting HEMS (helicopter emergency medical service) team could then make a secondary transfer to the nearest major trauma centre.
That allows the medical team who first treated the patient to provide consistent care throughout. And more pressingly, it would mean that the patient had the very best chance of survival, by avoiding the potentially life-threatening impact of transfer times.
“Time has the biggest impact on outcomes for trauma patients,” Alastair repeats, as if he has been saying it for a very long time – but as if he has, at last, identified a way to improve the problem dramatically. “I want to make a difference. Establishing this network of helipads, all with adequate lighting for night-missions and close proximity to the accident and emergency department, would be a hugely significant step towards seeing better outcomes for trauma patients.”
No one, least of all Alastair, underestimates how hard it will be to establish the network he has in mind. But I left my meeting with him won over not only by the importance of his vision – of how much positive difference it would make to have helipads across the region’s hospitals – but also by Alastair’s commitment and capacity to realise that vision, if anyone can.
Written by Jilly Hurley, PR Manager