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New Devon Air Ambulance

Nigel Hare

Blogger:  Nigel Hare, Operations Manager and Operational Aircrew

January marked an exciting time for Devon Air Ambulance Trust as the new helicopter, funded by the people of Devon to help enhance our service, arrived in England and has started the transformation into an Air Ambulance. This is the next stage in its 18 month journey from drawing board to operational use.

There are many advantages in Devon Air Ambulance owning its own helicopters, as opposed to leasing them, including the ability to specify what level and type of equipment the aircraft will have. This means not only do our patients benefit from an aircraft which best meets their needs, but also our pilots and paramedics get to work in an environment where the demands of their role are reflected in the design of the aircraft. Through maintaining a constant awareness of aviation and clinical developments on the horizon, we have also been able to design in some future proofing options to help enable our service to continue benefitting patients and crew in the longer term.

Eighteen months may seem like a long lead in time for the helicopter to enter service, however modification to the aircraft specifications, such as enhanced safety features and radio communication suites, need to be factored in at the design stage, before the aircraft enters into production. This is because every wire needed to operate equipment has to be incorporated into wiring looms and any potential conflicts with other aircraft systems have to be ruled out prior to construction commencing.

This applies equally to items which are not aviation in nature, such as the mounting brackets which hold the medical equipment. In the new aircraft we are incorporating a new generation of patient vital signs monitor in collaboration with the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust. This new system will enable the paramedics to attach the patient to the monitor at the scene of the incident, whether that is in the patient’s own home or within an up turned car, and the patient’s vital signs including pulse rate, blood pressure and oxygen concentration will not only be displayed on screen for the paramedics to see, but can also be viewed real time in the receiving hospital, enabling the medical staff to gain an understanding of the patients physiology even before the patient arrives at the hospital. Fixing a patient monitor to a wall in a hospital would require someone to simply find a free piece of wall, drill a few holes, and screw in the bracket. On a helicopter this process is a little more involved.

First, we have to find the right space within the helicopter where the paramedics can view the display whilst ensuring they can also reach the controls from their seats. The place the monitor is to be mounted needs to have a special mounting frame incorporated either on or within the wall which will take the weight of the monitor. No solid brick walls here to screw into! The weight of the monitor, bracket and the reinforcing then needs to be incorporated into the aircraft design. A helicopter is a bit like a children’s see-saw, with the rotor mast being the pivot point. You can’t simply put everything either in front or behind the rotor mast, it needs to be distributed and balanced equally within the helicopter, otherwise just like when only one child sits on the see-saw, we wouldn’t get off the ground!

Over the coming months in other blogs I will cover some of the key stages of its transformation from the fitting of the special navigational systems which help the crew find those isolated incidents through to the installation and testing of the medical interior which consists of items such as the stretcher, lifesaving medical equipment and of course that new vital signs monitor!

I will also cover the changes we have made to enable the aircraft to operate at night and along with my fellow bloggers provide a glimpse into how Devon Air Ambulance has a vision to enhance the operating hours of our service over the coming years.

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