The two £70,000 bespoke incubators to be introduced on board the Wales Air Ambulance Charity (WAAC) are the most advanced in the UK. Their introduction will replace long road ambulance journeys for vulnerable babies.
The charity operates the official National Children’s Air Ambulance in Wales, airlifting 250 children a year from life-threatening emergencies or to children’s hospitals across the UK.
At 100kg, the incubator is fitted to a sled and requires two people to lift into the air ambulance helicopter. It boasts the world’s first infant harness tested to aviation emergency landing conditions.
They will go into service on the WAAC’s newly-introduced fourth aircraft – an EC135 T2e – which will operate across Wales.
WAAC does not receive any funding from the national lottery or the government.
It relies entirely on charitable donations to raise more than £6m million annually to keep the helicopters flying for Wales.
Its medical crews, seconded from NHS Wales, provide pioneering treatments and work closely with all other official emergency agencies and hospitals in Wales.
Wales Air Ambulance Charity chief executive Angela Hughes said introduction of incubators was the latest advance in the air ambulance’s constantly-evolving service:
"Were always seeking to improve our range of equipment and our service offering. Itll enable us to accept more missions to help save lives across Wales."
“Crucially, the incubator is heated, and has a Perspex chamber, meaning that medics can see clearly in order to monitor the baby during the course of the flight.
“While we will continue to carry Babypods – which are chambers without an electrical heat source and with a smaller window – for emergency missions, this flight incubator means we can now transfer very poorly neo-natal patients between hospitals
“We’re always seeking to improve our range of equipment and our service offering. It’ll enable us to accept more missions to help save lives across Wales.”
The incubator has been paid for by NHS Wales, whose medical staff worked with its Swiss manufacturer to design it to their specific requirements.
From April 2015, Wales Air Ambulance has had consultants and critical care practicioners on board its aircraft, meaning the charity can provide even more advanced treatments, including blood transfusions and anaesthesia. The flying medics belong to EMRTS – NHS Wales’ Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service.
Dr Dindi Dill, EMRTS Cymru interim director, said: “Having the incubator system will further enhance the ability of the EMRTS teams to manage neonates born at home or in hospital. This advancement will be particularly important for premature neonates. It is recognised that temperature control is extremely important to this group of patients and therefore we welcome the ability to carry the incubator on Wales Air Ambulance’s helicopters. Furthermore, the incubator system will further enhance the ability of neonatal retrieval teams in Wales and beyond.”
Known as a mini-hospital, or a heated house for a baby, incubators provide warmth, oxygen and air. They are attached via a bridging system to external equipment such as the ventilator.
Crew training is currently taking place and the incubator service will run as a trial to the end of 2016.
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