Callouts double for air ambulance

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Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance recorded its busiest ever year in 2021 as the country emerged from lockdown, with demand for the life-saving service doubling in the Highlands and Islands.

Emergency callouts soared well beyond pre-pandemic levels, with crews at the charity’s Perth and Aberdeen airbases deployed 810 times during 2021 – a 76 per cent increase on the previous year’s workload.

Scotland’s only charity air ambulance, which operates two helicopters and two rapid response vehicles, responded to 159 calls to the Highlands and Islands in 2021, compared to 79 in 2020.

Most of the Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance’s (SCAA) emergency callouts on the West Coast are met by the Perth airbase, where John Pritchard is the lead paramedic.

John told The Oban Times: ‘The aircraft can get close to the patients and deliver them directly. It is a huge team effort that goes in when we land. They are local heroes in their own right.’

The national charity, which relies 100 per cent on donations from the public to fuel life-saving flights, responds to one time-critical emergency call out every single day on average.

Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance Base, Aberdeen (SCAA) home to Helimed 79 Paramedics. Picture by Graeme Hart. Photograph: Perthshire Picture Agency

The majority of emergency callouts were in Highland (27 per cent), Grampian (24 per cent) and Tayside (19 per cent) health board areas. SCAA’s 2021 mission log shows the helicopters’ busiest month was July, while Thursdays saw the greatest demand.

Traumatic injury cases continued to dominate, showing a 49 per cent increase, and accounting for around 40 per cent (323) of the year’s call outs. Of these, the greatest number (135) were to road traffic collisions. Crews were also quickly on scene for those suffering cardiac related emergencies (136) and strokes (22).

A total of 160 missions involved air transfers from remote or island locations to advanced mainland hospital care, where hours were saved on journey times for vulnerable patients.

Dr Martin Beastall, a GP at Jura Medical Practice, said: ‘SCAA provides an invaluable lifeline service to the population of the Isle of Jura.

‘Helicopter evacuation is often the only viable option for patients in need of urgent hospital care in Glasgow.

‘Jura Medical Practice and its patients are immensely grateful to the pilots and crew of SCAA and to those who provide financial support to keep the service going.’

Reflecting on the year’s operations, SCAA chief executive David Craig said the demand for pre-hospital emergency care had never been greater.

He said: ‘SCAA’s speed and level of care have proven to be life-saving and our crews’ impressive work – during another challenging year – has seen us delivering more emergency care than ever before which reflects the demand for our service.’

David also thanked the fundraising public who ensured SCAA was online 12 hours a day, 365 days of the year, at both Aberdeen and Perth bases throughout 2021.

‘It’s been a trying year for everyone,’ he said ‘but our amazing supporters kept the charity in their hearts throughout, with their ongoing generosity enabling SCAA to take more care, more quickly to more people throughout the whole of Scotland than ever before.’