Scotland: SAS Air Ambulance celebrates 90 years

Published by
Kyle Smith

Scotland: The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) Air Ambulance is celebrating 90 years of providing vital life-saving services to some of Scotland’s most remote and rural locations this week.

The first air ambulance mission was on May 14 1933, when a fisherman was evacuated from the Isle of Islay to Glasgow. There were several other flights that year and in the years that followed.

Now 90 years later and fully funded in its entirety by the Scottish Government, the Service provides air ambulance support to both urban and rural communities across Scotland, as well as supporting the ScotSTAR retrieval teams – such as SAS’s neonatal, EMRS and Paediatric Teams – and responding to 999 calls in a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service role.

A national multi-disciplinary team consisting of paramedics, nurses, advanced practitioners, and doctors work together to provide health care to all areas of Scotland.

For 2022/23, air ambulance crews attended 4185 incidents – an increase compared to the previous year (2021/22) of 3,924 incidents and 3076 the year before.

Scottish Ambulance Service Chief Executive Pauline Howie said, “The Air Ambulance Service is a vital lifeline for communities across Scotland, and 90s years of caring for patients across Scotland is a fantastic milestone. I’d like to thank all those Air Ambulance staffs who have served patients over these years and all those current staff who continue to provide the very best care to patients, often in the most challenging circumstances.”

“The air ambulance network ensures the best health care to remote and rural communities, carrying our routine transfers, attending emergencies, and assisting with paediatrics and neonates and their families.”

While the first flight took place on May 14 1933, the Scottish Air Ambulance Service only became recognised as a public service in 1948 following the creation of the UK National Health Service. Until then, the hire of an ambulance aircraft was a private arrangement between the patient and the airline.

Stephen Lee joined the Scottish Ambulance Service in September 2004 as an Ambulance Care Assistant. He became a Paramedic in 2008, based at Paisley Ambulance Station.

He started at the Air Ambulance Service in 2009 before joining the training department. Now he works as an Air Crew Paramedic on the Fixed Wing Aircraft based at Glasgow Airport, where he has been in the role for five years.

He said he attends routine transfers for patients attending clinics and planned hospital admissions, emergencies where the patient has been stabilised but requires special care in another hospital, and critical care retrievals with the adult, paediatric and neonatal teams.

He added, “My duties are to ensure the equipment in the aircraft is serviceable and to liaise with the pilots regarding any aviation problems. I also ensure the safe loading of patients, equipment and the general safety of the cabin when in flight.”

The things he enjoys most about this role are the variety from day to day, saying, “Hour to hour, I do not know what is coming next.”

“I’m also flying across some of the most beautiful countryside every day while going to work, and I enjoy working with the pilots, who are dedicated to what we do as a team. The highlights of working as an aircrew Paramedic are many, some to do with things I have seen while flying, such as flying into Edinburgh and seeing the Three Bridges across the Forth or flying up the Tay to land in Perth.”

He said logistics play a large part in his role, ensuring the patient has a seamless journey from hospital to hospital.

He added, “We live and work in Scotland, and the weather presents some challenges. We are bound by the legal limits set by the CAA, and while we can ask for some exemptions, we cannot break the law.”

Kyle Smith

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