FEARS have been expressed that a life-saving charity could lose vital funding to a rival whose goal it claims is “not needed and unachievable.”
Helena Holt, the chief executive of the Devon Air Ambulance Trust has hit out at the Children’s Air Ambulance Trust, disputing many of its claims and its financial capabilities.
She sparked a row after publishing a statement on the Devon Air Ambulance website outlining concerns about CAAT’s campaign to provide a transport service for children needing treatment at specialist hospitals throughout the UK.
She argued that the service being proposed was unrealistic and not financially viable. But Nicola Howkins of the CAAT hit back, saying what it proposes was very different to the regional air ambulances, vowing it would take to the air in 2010.
Ms Holt, said: “The treatment of children is always an extremely emotive cause, but this is going to detract and take money away from something that is providing a service for children to something that is never likely to come to fruition.
“It is a reasonable assumption that we will lose funds as a result of this. It is, I would suggest, a long way from being able to lease an aircraft and there is no rationale of why there is a need, and how it is going to develop and maintain it.”
Ms Holt argued there was little evidence that the service suggested was needed or was appropriate. She said: “At present, most patients needing an urgent transfer will be stabilised before the journey. Existing air ambulances and fixed-wing flights can, and do, conduct transfers for sick children in the minority of cases where an air transfer is appropriate. Most will go by road as the best mode of transport. Medical care en route is limited to maintaining the stability of the patient.
“In Devon only one hospital has a helipad which is lit and might be capable of getting approval for night landings and that is the RD&E in Exeter. There are few nationally so it is difficult to see how such a service could operate.”
She said CAAT’s claim it could operate the service for just £1.5m a year bore no relation to the true cost of leasing an aircraft. She said: “It costs nearer £2m per year to operate a 10-hour air ambulance service using the much smaller and more economical aircraft.
“While we completely understand that all charities must start somewhere, we are uncomfortable with its suggestions that its service is almost operational when it is very far from it. We have a purpose-built incubator and defibulator, which can be used in both our aircraft. Ten per cent of our operations involve children.”
Ms Howkins, who previously worked for both the Devon and the Dorset and Somerset air ambulances said: “To say we are not happy is an understatement. What we will offer is very different to the regional air ambulances. The CAAT has been dormant for a couple of years, but I have been asked to revive it. We are a retrieval service. Devon may take poorly injured children to a local hospital, but they then may need specialist treatment and we will fly children to these hospitals — the nearest to Devon is in Bristol. Seventy per cent of our work will be done at night when DAAT does not work and if it does not have the right landing site we can go to secondary sites.
“We are not there to pick up 999 calls. To say there is no need for our service is totally wrong. There is room for both trusts and I think this has come down to a misunderstanding.”
Ms Howkins said CAAT would announce a launch date in the new year.