VIDEO: Emergency treatment in Sheffield really needs to get flying

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The most hectic part of any large hospital is the A&E department, where at any moment a patient could be rushed in with horrific injuries, their life hanging in the balance.

But despite his job’s pressures, emergency medicine consultant Dr Stuart Reid says he wouldn’t contemplate working anywhere else.

An artist's impression of how the new �2 million helipad at the Northern General Hospital will look

An artist's impression of how the new �2 million helipad at the Northern General Hospital will look

“You never know what each case is going to be before they come in,” said the medic, who is based at the Northern General Hospital in Fir Vale, Sheffield.

“You might have someone who’s fallen 30 feet and only come in with a broken leg, or you might see someone who’s fallen down just two steps, hit their head and suffered a life-threatening injury.”

Last year around 120,000 people attended A&E in Sheffield and of these about 400 were serious enough to be treated by the Northern General’s major trauma centre, which handles the most severe and urgent cases, such as victims of car crashes, industrial accidents, stabbings or shootings.

Around 100 of those cases were flown in by air ambulance, landing on the hospital’s helipad close to Barnsley Road. But the current helipad was built more than 20 years ago and is no longer up to scratch, meaning pilots sometimes choose to travel further afield with patients.

An appeal has been launched by the Sheffield Hospitals Charity to raise the final £585,000 needed to pay for a new £2 million landing site which will enable quicker treatment and save more lives.

As a major trauma centre, the Northern General’s emergency department offers 24-hour specialist care, including orthopaedic, neurosurgery and radiology teams, for patients with multiple injuries.

“It’s very much a chain, and myself and the department are the start of it,” said Dr Reid.

“If a patient meets certain criteria for ambulance staff, rather than take a patient to the nearest hospital they will bypass it and bring them to the major trauma centre.”

The doors to the trauma centre lead straight into the resuscitation room, kitted out with eight beds, each equipped with hi-tech monitors and devices.

A blood fridge is on hand for quick access to transfusion supplies, and speedy CT scans are available.

“We can have results within half an hour – these are severely injured patients so we need to know what we’re dealing with,” said Dr Reid.

“We also offer specialised rehabilitation services, we have a spinal injuries unit and burns unit here as well. We aim to get patients back to work and living a normal life again.”

Every month a simulation exercise takes place in the resus room, involving a dummy which staff are expected to treat exactly the same as a real patient. Dr Reid said emergency medicine is now a ‘24-hour phenomenon’ – and admitted that junior doctors can find the demands off-putting.

“Junior doctors see the pressure on senior staff and the decisions we have to make, and inevitably they get put off. We see as many patients in the middle of the night as we get during the day. But I couldn’t do anything else. It’s a people-based career and there is great variety. No two cases are the same. For me it’s fantastic.”

The Northern General was designated a major trauma centre – one of 26 around the country – in April 2013. The move followed a report which revealed England’s mortality rate among trauma patients was 20 per cent worse than America’s.

Trauma nurse co-ordinator Mike Cole said the change had made ‘a big difference’. “We have the right people and the right specialists seeing people earlier on,” he said.

“We’re seeing benefits in terms of patient outcomes. We’re getting patients surviving now who we wouldn’t have expected to two years ago. We start thinking about rehabilitation within 24 hours.”

Discussions over setting up a dedicated trauma ward have already begun, as staff have to contend with patients being sent to wards around the hospital site, depending which of their injuries is most significant.

Rehab co-ordinator Chris Woodward said: “It’s going to be crucial the ward is up and running when the new helipad is operational. We’re anticipating a lot more patients with severe injuries coming here. It’s not unrealistic, it’s what happens in other places.”

The existing ‘secondary helipad’ is too far away from A&E, and requires a road ambulance to carry patients the final 250 metres. The landing pad is also too small for modern aircraft, has no lighting so cannot be used at night and is in a dip close to trees, against modern safety guidelines.

Dr Reid said no casualties were brought to Sheffield following last year’s hen party minibus crash on the M62 – in which trainee nurse Bethany Jones died and several others were injured – despite beds being ready and waiting, because of the need for a land ambulance.

“No-one from that incident was brought here, essentially because we didn’t have a primary helipad. All the Leeds and Wakefield ambulances were sucked into the incident, and the roads were gridlocked, which meant we weren’t going to get an ambulance for the pad. We had empty beds and a trauma team ready to go.

“The other day I walked with a stopwatch from the helipad when a patient was brought in, and stopped the watch when we got to the resus room. The whole process of loading them up into the land ambulance and taking them up the drive took just under five minutes, which is too long.”

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