September 25, 2008

Air Ambulances to Fly to Hundreds More Emergencies to Meet Targets


AIR ambulances are set to respond to hundreds more 999 calls in Scotland in an attempt to reach official targets - despite soaring oil prices sending fuel costs spiralling.

The cost of each of the 3500 air ambulance emergency callouts which take place every year has already risen to GBP4000 per mission .

Yesterday, the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) said it was considering using air ambulances n 20per cent of all call-outs to help meet a Scottish Government target of responding to 75per cent of the most serious emergency calls within eight minutes by March next year.

If the initiative works, the SAS could also invest in more air ambulances to increase its existing fleet of two helicopters and two planes.

Figures for the last financial year showed that the SAS was reaching 62per cent of so-called category-A calls within the allotted time period.

After changes in the way calls are classified, including moving all road crashes from category B to A, the deadline has become harder to meet, with the number of A calls for the last financial year rising 25per cent to 149,860 .

Air ambulances can dramatically reduce the time taken to transport patients from remote locations to hospitals and leave road ambulances to deal with any other emergencies in the area.

The basic cost of sending out a road ambulance is far cheaper, at GBP179 on average for a one-hour journey .

Speaking at the launch of the SAS annual review in Edinburgh yesterday, the service's acting chief executive, Pauline Howie, said: "In rural areas when we pick up a patient with one of our land vehicles that can denude the area for a long period of time because often there is only one vehicle covering a large area.

"We could still use the land vehicle to stabilise the patient but the conveying to hospital could be done with an air ambulance, depending on the clinical condition of the patient."

She added: "Air ambulances are very expensive - at current fuel prices it is about GBP4000 for each mission, compared with GBP179 for an A&E land ambulance.

"But GBP179 is the average cost. If a land ambulance makes a four- hour journey from Sutherland to Raigmore Hospital [in Inverness] and back that is expensive in terms of that resource time and what would happen if there was another incident and we had to call for cover."

In a further bid to improve responses and meet the 75per cent target, the SAS is also bringing in 60 extra staff and increasing its "tactical deployment" of ambulances, positioning them in hotspot areas to reduce the time to reach emergency calls.

Overall, there were 584,108 category A and B emergency responses last year. Of the 149,860 in category A, chest pain was the most common life-threatening condition accounting for 27,319 responses.

Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who chaired the SAS annual review yesterday, praised the service for making "encouraging" progress amid growing demand, but also stressed that more needed to be done.

Responding to the idea of increasing air ambulance use, she cautioned that it was an expensive part of the service which "should not be used inappropriately", but added that neither should the SAS "shy away" from efforts which could improve service .

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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