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Why don�t we carry blood on board?

You may have read recently that our friends at the London Air Ambulance are now carrying blood supplies on board.  We’ve been asked whether we are going to be doing the same.  The simple answer is no.  This is why:

The service provided by the London Air Ambulance is significantly different to the service we provide because the two services have developed to meet very different needs.  London HEMS are implementing a very innovative scheme within the UK and we very much look forward to following its progress and the results they achieve. There are a few similar schemes in place around the world based mainly in areas where patients are faced with considerable journey times, even by air, to the nearest treatment centre and more recently by UK armed forces in areas of conflict.

Such schemes have been implemented to help find solutions to problems that are thankfully rarely encountered in Devon but sadly for which parallels are found in London due to their high rate of trauma caused by knife and firearms crime. Through our partnership with the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust our Paramedics were amongst the first to be trained in the use of equipment and treatments developed to help patients suffering from catastrophic haemorrhage. They are able to treat patients using arterial tourniquets and high compression bandages as well as special wound packing compounds which initiate a biological reaction which arrests a patient’s bleeding from wounds, such as gunshot or stab but also, equally as important for us in Devon, for traumatic wounds caused by machinery or agricultural equipment.

This ability to treat severe haemorrhage has recently been strengthened by our Paramedics being the first in the country to be able to treat patients with a drug that has been shown to significantly increase the chances of survival for those who are suffering from severe hemorrhage, whether it is external or internal in nature.

We work closely with our colleagues across the UK through membership of the Association of Air Ambulances, which enables us to closely monitor developments elsewhere and learn from their experiences so we will certainly be keeping this under review.  We will all be following closely the experience of London HEMS as they seek to overcome the very real challenges that exist in terms of carrying, storing and prescribing blood in the pre-hospital environment and we look forward to learning from their experience and in time perhaps seeing if there are elements of their practice that we are able to incorporate into our own.

In the meantime, the carriage of blood would present some significant challenges for Devon, would be very expensive to develop and at present would benefit very few of our patients.  Instead, we continue to invest in training and development to equip our already highly experienced crew with even more advanced skills as above and we are working towards extending our operational hours further into the evenings so that we reach a far greater number of people.

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