'Why Northamptonshire's air ambulance needs you more than ever to keep flying after losing £2.2 million during lockdown'

John Griff is a broadcaster in Northamptonshire
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It’s something which I’ve taken an interest in since its earliest days.

One of its team members once described it as “us turning up in the middle of somebody’s worst day, every day’. And yet it survives only through your generosity.

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Something over 15 years ago, I was asked to help the then embryonic Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance, over a display it was due to participate in with the other blue light services at the Balloon Festival on the Racecourse in Northampton.

The plan had been for everyone to put on a mass display of their roles in an imagined car accident, played out in front of a crowd of thousands. By the time the festival took place though, each service had had to drop out for operational reasons, leaving the newcomers as the sole participants.

I’d interviewed the chief executive of the service in the recent past. Could I help?

“Certainly,” I said, “I’ll stand in one of the balloon arenas with a microphone, and the crew can fly in and land while I commentate. Then they can do their dummy mission and take off again.”

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And so began a number of years when the air ambulance – call sign Helimed 53 – did exactly that.

Their display became one of the highlights of the festival, partly because the bright yellow 200mph Augusta 109 helicopter was the only thing guaranteed to fly, unlike the balloons which were grounded by anything more than a 5 knot breeze.

It got to the point where the organisers would ask us to display two or three times a day so they had something for visitors to see.

It was great fun and I enjoyed the experience hugely, but at all times the ambulance was live – meaning that if called upon it could – and would – divert to a genuine mission. More than once it did exactly that, leaving me on the ground with nothing more than a hi-vis jacket, a live microphone and expectant crowd for company. Tricky to deal with, but for justification in having the air ambulance in the first place, immensely powerful.

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That was then. Last week the team, which operates Helimed 53 and its sister service Helimed 54 over Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland, passed the 40,000 mission mark with a callout to someone who had fallen from height and was unconscious.

The Operations Director of the service talked about it on my show on Saturday and while he was at pains to say that that milestone wasn’t a cause for celebration, it was one for pride in being able to deliver gold standard medical care in the field and then transport a casualty to hospital at a vastly faster rate than would be the case on the road. You can see his point.

Our air ambulance – all air ambulances – fly only because of public donation. The NHS doesn’t fund them, neither does the government or the National Lottery. It’s as the services would have it though, leaving them free to operate as needed, rather than be tied to bureaucracy and red tape.

It was only after our interview had been recorded that I was told, almost as an afterthought, that with the pandemic and a lack of events banging the Helimed 53 drum, revenues have plummeted by £2.2 million. It’s about awareness.

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£2.2million is the equivalent of almost 1,300 missions or a third of a new helicopter... £2 per person per month would more than cover that and fully fund the service, so here’s a reminder.

If you can support them, please do.

Keep up the good work guys. We’ll find the cash.