Twelve years ago, the Bristol, Bath and Gloucestershire area was the last in mainland Great Britain not to have an Air Ambulance. Roll on to 2020 and the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC) provides prehospital critical care to around 2.1 million residents of Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire as well as providing mutual aid to its bordering counties. GWAAC started life operating Eurocopter EC-135 T2 G-SPHU from the South Eastern Helipad at Bristol Filton airfield five days a week. In 2009, to preserve the future of GWAAC, the decision was made to downgrade the 135 to Bolkow B-105 G-NDAA, this however allowed the charity to provide a seven days a week, 365 days a year service.
After operating NDAA for five years enough funds were raised to operate a 135 seven days a week and this came in the shape of G-GWAA, an ex-Midlands Air Ambulance machine formally registered G-WMAS. This increased Helimed 65’s range and also gave the ability to carry a third member of the critical care team, something that was previously not possible in the Bolkow. With GWAAC being a Training establishment for Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine this allowed trainee Doctors and Paramedics to gain valuable experience.
The summer of 2017 saw another airframe upgrade, this time to a Eurocopter EC-135T-2+. While there are no visible differences between G-GWAA and G-GWAC, Alpha Charlie is more fuel efficient and has an upgraded avionics suite. With Bristol Filton Airfield being closed down by BAe Systems, Helimed 65, along with the National Police Air Service, moved to a purpose built facility at nearby Almondsbury in 2018. Shortly after moving into the new base GWAAC gained enough funds to purchase the hangar from BAe Systems and therefore secure the future of pre-hospital emergency medicine and critical care within the South West.
Deploying the Great Western Air Ambulance isn’t just about picking up a patient and flying them to the nearest hospital though; it’s about taking a consultant critical care doctor (most of GWAAC’s doctors are either Emergency Department , ITU Consultants or military) along with a specialist paramedic in critical care with the resources normally found in the resus room of an Emergency Department. This allows them to perform life-saving surgery at the scene, such as a pre-hospital resuscitative thoracotomy or a pre-hospital perimortem caesarean section, as well as blood and plasma transfusions before taking the patient to definitive specialist care centre.
As the name suggests, GWAAC is a charity and receives no regular government funding. To operate the helicopter along with two dedicated rapid response cars, it costs over £4 million each year, all for which they rely on public donations.
To find out how you can support Great Western Air Ambulance Charity click here.
Report by Matt Sudol
© South West Aviation Photographers 2020