Blood on board

PUBLISHED: 06:35 14 July 2014

East Anglian Air Ambulance

East Anglian Air Ambulance


The East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) has served the people of Norfolk for the past 14 years, delivering speedy and life-saving pre-hospital care to every corner of the county.

While its trademark yellow helicopters already take to the skies every single day of the year, recently, the EAAA became the first air ambulance in England to achieve night flying missions. And this year, the clinical team is hoping to make another major step forward: They want to carry blood on board.

Carrying blood on the helicopters will be no easy thing to achieve. The EAAA will have to work with hospitals in the area – including the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital – who will supply the blood. The blood will then be delivered, as needed, by a second charity, Service by Emergency Response Volunteers (SERV).

The blood is not only hard to acquire, it will also require careful handling. It will have to be kept under strict temperature controls to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that not a drop is wasted.

Lost blood has traditionally been replaced with various solutions. But currently available replacement solutions, such as saline, do not carry oxygen (as haemoglobin in blood does), and may therefore reduce the ability of the blood to clot. To avoid this, doctors provide only limited volumes of fluid to trauma patients in the initial phase of care. This more conservative approach can only apply to certain cases, however. Some patients have lost so much blood that survival is unlikely without volume replacement.

Increasingly, then, emergency medical services are seeking to use blood before the patient even reaches hospital. This has been part of the UK Military approach, and is now used by London’s Air Ambulance and Kent Surrey Sussex Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, with encouraging results.

Dr Jenny Townsend, a doctor with the EAAA, describes the initiative to carry blood as “a very exciting development for our service that we aim to introduce later this year, once all the appropriate policies and procedures are in place in order that we preserve this very precious resource while making it available as standard care to those patients we see in whom it potentially confers a survival advantage”.

Patients from road traffic accidents are likely to be the greatest beneficiaries. If the EAAA is successful in its aim to carry blood, it is estimated that around eight patients a month would stand a better chance of survival.

The EAAA is a charity entirely dependent on regional fundraising, and must raise £7.6 million a year to keep the service running day and night 365 days a year. If you would like to get involved with the East Anglian Air Ambulance Charity, contact the charity on 0845 066 9999, visit, or follow on Facebook at East Anglian Air Ambulance Charity and Twitter @EastAngliAirAmb.

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