Great Western Air Ambulance cannot land on BRI helipad

Artist impression of BRI helipad The helipad at the BRI will be ready for use in 2014

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An air ambulance charity says it needs to raise funds for a new helicopter or it will not be able to land on a new helipad at a Bristol hospital.

The Great Western Air Ambulance said its current helicopter was too old to land at the £500,000 helipad being built at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

It will be one of six providers transporting patients to the BRI and neighbouring children's hospital.

The charity needs a total of £250,000 to replace its current 1960s model.

Flights landing at the Bristol Royal Infirmary will include emergency transfer, airlifting patients to the hospital, and transport from hospital to hospital, as required, the charity said.

The Great Western Air Ambulance is the last air ambulance charity in England to rely exclusively on the Bolkow Bo105 helicopter.

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust, which runs the BRI, said it has always been aware of the situation with the charity's helicopter.

'Losing valuable minutes'

Patricia Gaitan, fundraising manager for the charity, said the upgrade was vital.

"Our medical team offers the best pre-hospital care, and unfortunately by not being able to land on elevated helipads, we are losing valuable minutes as we have to land nearby and transport the patient by road ambulance," she said.

"Therefore, it is critically important that we upgrade our helicopter to be able to get our patients to the most appropriate hospital for their needs and continue offering a high standard of care for the people of the region that we serve."

Image of Great Western Air Ambulance current helicopter alongside the model they are hoping to upgrade to. The charity hopes to upgrade its current Bolkow 105 helicopter (left) to an EC135 model (here in red)

The charity's helicopter currently lands at a site on the Clifton Downs, with patients then taken by ambulance across the city to the hospital - a journey that can take more than 30 minutes at peak times.

Despite the construction of the new helipad at the BRI, this would still be the case for the Great Western Air Ambulance helicopter, if they are unable to raise the funds needed.

Bond Air Services pilot, John Rigby, who flies for the air ambulance, said: "The regulations relating to landing on a rooftop helipad differ to those allowed for ground level helipads.

"The requirement for an enhanced performance capability when operating to a rooftop means that the Bolkow Bo105, under certain conditions of aircraft weight, air temperature and altitude, may not be able to always meet these additional requirements."

The charity has currently raised £170,000 towards their target and is hoping to have the funds in place to upgrade the helicopter by the first quarter of 2014.

Raising funds

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust said: "We have always been aware that Great Western Air Ambulance charity's current helicopter does not meet the specification required to land on the helipad, currently being constructed.

"However, the charity is in the process of raising funds to improve its helicopter, so that it will meet the specification required to land on our helipad when it becomes operational in April 2014."

The trust added that Great Western Air Ambulance is one of six air ambulance providers which will be able to use the helipad.

The landing site has been funded with £500,000 from the Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads Appeal (Help) and is part of a £110m revamp of the BRI.

The BRI redevelopment will mean specialist paediatric services will be centralised at the BRI.

A new extension will house children's burns and neuroscience services - meaning the majority of air ambulance transfers will be for children and infants.

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