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Aberdeen based air ambulance completes first year on the frontline

By Kirsty Brown

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This weekend Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance's second emergency response service - Helimed 79 at Aberdeen - marked it's first anniversary having flown nearly 25,000 miles on its life-saving missions.

In a year like no other, the crew responded to 187 emergencies all across the north and north east of Scotland, flying 97 patients to critical life-saving and improving hospital care.

Launched at the start of lockdown, the team at H79 has spent it's first year operating under isolating Covid restrictions.

Within their 'bubble', they developed and consolidated a new second operational base for the charity at Aberdeen International Airport as well as establishing H79 as a vital part of the country's pre-hospital emergency response and care network.

Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance Helimed 79. Picture by Graeme Hart.
Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance Helimed 79. Picture by Graeme Hart.

Lead paramedic Ewan Littlejohn said: "It's been challenging, but we're really proud of what SCAA has achieved here in the north east.

"We're now a recognised and well respected part of the country's emergency response network.

"Our year in relative isolation has allowed us to learn and grow and to support each other as a team and I'm immensely proud of everyone - including our supporters - who have helped us through our first year."

SCAA chief executive David Craig reflected on the first year for H79 - which mirrors the charity's H76 service based at Perth Airport since 2013 - and said: "The demand for our H79 service has been there since day one when it was deployed to a 999 call within hours of launching.

"Since then it has benefitted a huge number of patients and their families.

"I think the crew members have been remarkable.

"Most of them came fresh to the air ambulance service and have had to learn new skills, study and qualify for their role, set up a new air ambulance base and then launch on operations to demanding high acuity emergencies during a very difficult year for everyone and without the physical presence of the charity team being with them as support.

"They have each shown just how professional they are and their first year has been testament to their outstanding expertise and capabilities.

"Air ambulances make a huge difference to response times and outcomes and the demands on H79 are sure to grow even further as we emerge from lockdown."

Chriss Doyle (paramedic), Captain Jon Stupart (pilot), Laura McAllister (paramedic), Ewan Littlejohn (lead paramedic), Rich Forte (paramedic), Captain Pete Winn (pilot) and Owen McLauchlan (paramedic). Picture by Graeme Hart.
Chriss Doyle (paramedic), Captain Jon Stupart (pilot), Laura McAllister (paramedic), Ewan Littlejohn (lead paramedic), Rich Forte (paramedic), Captain Pete Winn (pilot) and Owen McLauchlan (paramedic). Picture by Graeme Hart.

During its first year, H79 has responded to a wide variety of emergencies at locations as far apart as Orkney and the Borders.

The majority - 105 (54 percent) - involved serious trauma.

48 of these (25 percent of all call outs) were to road traffic collisions and a further 25 to serious falls.

The country's newest air ambulance service has also proved a lifeline for those living in remote and island communities, providing rapid transfer to patients for advanced hospital care.

In the first year, H79 airlifted 35 such patients from outlying areas or airlifted them home to the islands following hospital treatment.

A further 31 of the crew's call outs were to cardiac related emergencies, another situation where time is of vital importance.

Throughout the year around 65 percent of H79's call outs have been to emergencies in the Grampian region, with 17 percent to the Highlands and a further 14 percent to the Orkney Islands.

More than 80 patients were flown to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, with other major care centres such as the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh and Raigmore Hospital also visited to deliver those seriously ill or injured.

The helicopter air ambulance has spent around 190 hours in the air since launching.

Statistically it's busiest month was August, busiest day of the week is a Sunday and busiest call out time is between noon and 2pm.

Around 13 percent of all patients attended by H79 were teenagers and younger, with a further 24 percent being seniors.

Of the 187 responses, 76 have been with the Emergency Medical Retrieval Service (EMRS) - a doctor-led critical care team, also based at Aberdeen Airport, which flies with SCAA to the most serious incidents.

SCAA relies entirely on public donations to fund this vital Scottish life-saving service service and to find out how you can support their work you can visit: www.scaa.org.uk.

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