William's air ambulance crews move to purpose-built site


Crews at the air ambulance charity where the Duke of Cambridge works as a pilot have moved to a new base which should help improve their life-saving capabilities.

Since the charity's launch in 2000, the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) has been based in an old hangar at Cambridge Airport.

The team has moved to a new purpose-built base on the site and say it will help them respond more quickly and efficiently to 999 emergencies.

Former RAF search and rescue pilot William, known to colleagues as Captain William Wales, has flown dozens of missions since joining the charity as a co-pilot in July.

Five months on, he is regarded as "one of the team" and has kept a low profile, stressing he wants to concentrate on his duties.

He along with his pilot, paramedic and doctor colleagues are embracing the opportunity to further improve the service they offer to patients.

Allan Fearnley, originally from Perth, Scotland, has also joined the EAAA as a co-pilot in the past year. He had previously worked as a civilian flight instructor.

Describing life as a new recruit, he said: "It's a challenging role as you have to quickly make decisions under pressure - for example landing in less than perfect conditions.

"We work in small teams of four or five people so you get to know each other very well and we rely on one another.

"I don't think you ever get used to the emotional side of the job and that is something all new recruits have to learn to cope with but we all support each other a great deal.

"Often you will return home from a mission to get a call from the doctor explaining what happened and how we were able to help and that context can be a great comfort."

The teams respond to a wide range of incidents with trauma injuries, caused for example by road collisions or falls, making up the majority of the work.

They also treat many patients for cardiac arrests and in recent years have seen an increase in mental health issues and attempted suicides.

The EAAA crews aim to be airborne within four minutes of receiving a call.

This was more challenging in the past when they were located further from their helicopter, but at their new base they can land right by the crew room.

Doctor Neil Berry said that although performance figures were not yet available, this change could shave a vital 30 seconds to a minute off response times.

Other improvements include better training facilities, sleeping areas and improved kit storage which allows the crews to be ready to take to the air again after completing a call-out.

They also have a new crew room which is currently decorated with a Star Wars-themed Christmas tree and where, for the first time due to safety concerns at their old base, they are allowed to plug in a toaster.

Dr Berry said: "Our job involves very intense 20 to 30-minute bursts of activity which can be very high pressure and demanding.

"In between it is vital for us to remain relaxed and focused so that we can help patients to the best of our ability.

"It is also important that we can decompress after an incident and the new base has room for us to go off as a team, talk about it and try to understand what we have seen."

Paramedic Jemma Varela has worked for the EAAA for seven years. 

She said she had seen the service evolve to one of the best in the country. She added that the air ambulance was about more than simply transporting patients to hospital.

"We have specific capabilities such as night flighting, ultrasound equipment and the ability to fit arterial lines to patients which are not common across the country," she said.

"We are also about to start carrying blood which will massively improve the treatment we can give.

"I was on a mission to treat a patient with head injuries recently and, apart from the ability to carry out a CT scan, we are now in the position where we can offer a patient like that exactly the same care they would receive in an accident and emergency department."

The charity, which serves Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Bedfordshire, regularly completes more than 150 missions each month. 

It needs to raise £10.5 million each year to continue its work and has benefited from a boost in profile from its new royal recruit.

William works a shift pattern similar to the four-day on/four off worked by his colleagues, allowing for his royal commitments, and donates his salary in full to charity.

The prince, already a qualified helicopter pilot after his time in the RAF, said when he joined the charity that nothing could prepare a person for what they would see in such a role.

But he added he was "fantastically excited'' and looking forward to working with a ''very professional bunch of guys and girls''.

''For me it's a really important point to be grounded. I feel doing a job like this really helps me to be grounded and that's the core of what I'm trying to become," he said.

''I'm trying to be a good guy, to do what I can and trying to be a decent individual.''