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Air ambulance boss hits out as charity relaunches

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: December 04, 2009

Helena Holt

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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.

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