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Local Charity Providing National Support: Critical Covid-19 transfers

Credit: stock photography, courtesy of Digital Photography by Rob Holding

Throughout the pandemic, Magpas Air Ambulance has been on the front line every day providing emergency medical care to patients across the East of England. Alongside this Magpas has also been supporting the NHS response to the pandemic including regional – and now national – inter-hospital transfers of critically ill Covid-19 patients.

The charity, based in Cambridgeshire, was the first air ambulance in the East of England to facilitate a national inter-hospital transfer of a Covid-19 patient by air on Monday and fulfilled a further request on Thursday. As one of only a handful of services with the ability to transfer these patients by air, the charity expects to carry out more requests over the coming weeks. As it stands, the national transfers that Magpas Air Ambulance are being activated to are originating from hospitals in the South East of England and flying to those in the Midlands and the North.

Magpas Air Ambulance Trustee and Doctor, Anne Booth, who was heavily involved in setting up transfers across the region explains, “Due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and a surge in cases across the country, hospitals in some areas are reaching capacity. Therefore, they need to transfer patients to hospitals which have the capabilities to give them the precise care they need at that time.”

“Critically ill, ventilated patients can be very unstable, so to move them long distances is challenging and requires specialist skills and equipment that only a critical care team such as Magpas Air Ambulance can provide.”

Magpas Air Ambulance Doctor Becky Morris, who undertook the charity’s first transfer flight on Monday alongside Critical Care Paramedic Ollie Robinson, explains, “We’re really pleased to be able to expedite these transfers by air, not only does it mean we can support hospitals across the country at such a difficult time, but flying patients limits their time outside of an intensive care unit and therefore limits the risks as much as possible.”

Despite the training and experience of the Magpas Air Ambulance medical team, air transfers are complex and can be difficult to undertake.  Becky explains “being in the back of the aircraft for a long period of time, in full PPE, caring for a very unwell Covid-19 positive patient on a ventilator is challenging to say the least – particularly as each transfer takes around 4-6 hours – but the equipment we carry in the Magpas Air Ambulance is the same level you find in a hospital, and we’re specially trained for these scenarios so we know we can give the patient the very best care.”

To cover the increase in activity the charity aims to double its daytime capacity and have an additional team ready to step in when a transfer is undertaken. Natalie Church, Director of Operations at Magpas Air Ambulance concludes, “The complexity of the decision making and communications required at every level to facilitate these transfers is not to be underestimated. However, with a state of the art helicopter, the right equipment and training and strict decision making processes in place to ensure we can maintain emergency medical cover in our core region of Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and beyond, Magpas Air Ambulance is ready to support the NHS when needed. I’m immensely proud of our team who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and continue to go above and beyond to support this national effort. We exist to save lives and we want to do that in any way we can.”