City to be base for UK’s first baby air ambulance

The interior of an air ambulance for babies and young children irun by charity NETS in Australia.
The interior of an air ambulance for babies and young children irun by charity NETS in Australia.
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SHEFFIELD City Heliport is set to be used as a base for Britain’s first emergency helicopter dedicated to transfer of new-born babies and young children between specialist hospital units.

NETS, a charity which already provides the service in Australia, has set up a UK branch and plans to base its helicopter and clinical training centre in Sheffield, at the former base of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

Martin Eedes, a former chairman of Yorkshire Air Ambulance, has been recruited as volunteer chief executive.

He said: “Sheffield has been chosen because of its central location relative to the 20 specialist children’s intensive care units and centres of excellence around the country. With the type of aircraft we hope to use, we could travel as far as Great Ormond Street Hospital in London within 40 minutes.

“Time is of the essence with transport of critically-ill babies and young children - with some conditions, there can be just a few hours to save a life - and road transport takes too long.

“While there are the regional air ambulances, they are primarily for use attending emergencies within their area, and we also need a helicopter which is larger and faster.”

The helicopter will also be available for other emergency transfers between NHS hospitals. Mr Eedes said the charity aims to recruit six to eight air traffic control workers, pilots, doctors and nurses to work on flights.

Its clinical training centre will provide advice to other emergency services on transfer of poorly patients. It has already attracted international interest, from medics in Oman.

NETS UK, which has signed up actress Dame Judy Dench as its patron, will not require planning permission to move to the heliport, as it will use the former Yorkshire Air Ambulance buildings at the heliport, vacated last year when the air ambulance was moved to Leeds.

Mr Eedes added: “We are now in the tendering process for an aircraft. It is hoped we will be in operation in the autumn.”

He added the helicopter will be run as a charity and will need donations of £1 million a year to keep flying. Mr Eedes is appealing for volunteers to help fundraise. Email martin.eede@netsuk.org or call 07743930352.

A conference will be held on Thursday, May 19, at the Aston Hotel, Catcliffe, to discuss how it will operate.