The Air Ambulances to be government funded

The air ambulances that operate around the UK cost around £12,000 per day to run and maintain, and are mainly funded through charity organisations. This petition is to ask the Government to fully fund the air ambulances through the emergency services.

This petition closed on 6 Nov 2019 with 134,143 signatures

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Petition Signatures over time

Debate - Monday 26th April 2021

Air Ambulance Funding

Monday 26th April 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
- Hansard - Excerpts

I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice, in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall. Members are expected to remain for the entire debate. I must also remind Members participating virtually that they are visible at all times, both to each other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks email address. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I would also like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall—obviously not when speaking.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP) [V]
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 259892, relating to air ambulance funding.

The e-petition that we are considering today was submitted during the 2017-19 Parliament, and I am delighted that we have now found time to consider it, after previous scheduled debates were postponed, first because of the general election and latterly because of the pandemic. I thank the petitioner and everyone who took the time to sign the petition for their patience and understanding in relation to the delays.

The petition is entitled “The Air Ambulances to be government funded”, and it states:

“The air ambulances that operate around the UK cost around £12,000 per day to run and maintain, and are mainly funded through charity organisations. This petition is to ask the Government to fully fund the air ambulances through the emergency services.”

Of course, the funding that the petition called for was not awarded. The UK Government response was broadly dismissive of the need for change. On 3 July 2019 they stated:

“NHS ambulance services provide clinical staff and equipment to air ambulance charities. A charitable model gives charities independence to deliver specialised, specific services to each locality.

Air ambulance services are not NHS funded and are provided by 18 charitable organisations across England, with the majority of their resources supported by their own fundraising activities.”

The petition was launched by Bethany Billington, who has kindly given me permission to tell her story. On 31 March 2019, Bethany’s sister Lee-Anne Parkin and her partner were involved in a road traffic accident. Tragically, Lee-Anne’s partner died at the scene. Lee-Anne was airlifted to the major trauma unit in Teesside where sadly she passed away one week later, never having regained consciousness. During that time the Great North Air Ambulance Service team, who had attended the accident, kept in contact with the hospital to check on Lee-Anne’s progress. The gratitude of Bethany and her family to the air ambulance crew, as well as to the wonderful hospital staff, for doing everything in their power to try to save Lee-Anne’s life, inspired the aspiration behind the petition. I am sure that all Members here today will join me in sending their condolences to Bethany and her family.

It is important that we take the time to recognise the hard work and dedication of air ambulance crews across the UK. They are committed and talented professionals, who often find themselves having to work in the most extreme circumstances. For example, they can administer general anaesthetics and even perform open heart surgery at the scene of incidents. I wish to pass on my deepest thanks to all the dedicated air ambulance crews up and down the country. Many people will know a family who have benefited from this service. It is a vital link in our emergency services.

There are 22 air ambulance organisations across the UK, the structures of which can be extremely complex. I have to admit that I was shocked to discover that all but one of the UK’s 22 air ambulance organisations are charitable organisations. Scotland is the only country in the UK to have NHS-funded air ambulance provision; the other 21 organisations are all funded by donations from generous members of the public. According to Air Ambulances UK, the UK’s air ambulances collectively make over 25,000 life-saving missions a year, at an average cost of £2,500 per mission, or, to put it another way, at an annual cost of more than £62.5 million, the vast majority of which is funded by charitable donations.

Generally, the medical teams on board air ambulances are seconded from local NHS trusts. However, some charities are responsible for employing their own medical staff. In addition, some of these organisations have chosen to lease their helicopters. However, the purchasing of helicopters has become increasingly popular in more recent times. For instance, Cornwall Air Ambulance recently bought the charity’s first helicopter in its 32-year history, while Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance launched its second air ambulance on 3 April last year.

The number of petitioners clearly demonstrates a strong public sentiment that air ambulances should receive Government funding. However, it would be injudicious of me not to mention that Devon Air Ambulance Trust actually asked its supporters not to sign this petition, stating:

“Whilst we appreciate the sentiment behind this petition, we firmly believe it is not in patients’ best interests. As we have seen over the last decade, government-funded services face significant cuts in funding alongside policy and priorities set by the government of the day. Many aspects of our essential services have been commercialised. The UK Air Ambulance sector has an excellent aviation safety record thanks to our ability to put patients and safety at the heart of our operations. Subject to the same constraints as our other essential services, we would face a stark choice between cutting services or cutting quality. Neither is acceptable or necessary.”

This sentiment appears to have been echoed in the findings of public engagement work that the Petitions Committee carried out on this topic. An e-survey, which ran between August 2020 and September 2020, was distributed to air ambulance charities via the Air Ambulances UK network and received 15 out of a possible 21 responses. All but one opposed the idea that air ambulance services should be fully funded by the Government. The reason provided by one charity was:

“Air ambulances would be a low priority for government funding”.

Another stated:

“The government is never going to be able to guarantee the same level of investment. The impact of austerity on public services has gone far beyond cost efficiency savings.”

Of the 14 charities that responded and opposed Government funding, it is worth noting that three of them were in favour of the Government providing capital grants for larger costs such as helipads.

Although UK Government support for air ambulances has been minimal, it is worth noting that these organisations receive sporadic access to Government funding. In the Government’s response to this petition, they said that in 2019 the 18 air ambulance charities across England were invited to bid for a share of £10 million of funding from the Department for Health and Social Care for a range of facilities and infrastructure projects, including high-tech medical equipment for critical care teams and new helicopters and helipads. However, only nine out of the 14 English air ambulance charities that put forward bids were successful. The money that was secured was used to upgrade equipment and improve facilities.

Responding at that time, Paula Martin, chair of the UK’s Association of Air Ambulances, or AAA, said

“this funding only represents a small amount of what has to be raised”

and that air ambulance charities were still heavily reliant on the public’s “kind and generous donations”. According to an article in the March 2019 edition of the AAA’s Airway magazine, this funding opportunity presented charities with something of a dilemma. There were concerns that it would adversely impact on their regular donors and entirely charity-funded status. For these charities, their independence is vital.

Funding for air ambulances has not been immune to the effects of coronavirus, either. All the charities that responded to the survey stated that their finances had been impacted by covid, with the relevant figures ranging between £500,000 and £3 million and the overwhelming reason appearing to be their inability to fundraise in the same way. A £6 million covid-19 Government funding grant for air ambulance charities was therefore warmly welcomed by the organisations at this very difficult time, although several had concerns about the bidding process, described as

“tortuous as projects must be unfunded but shovel-ready, which is illogical and high risk”

and “lengthy and delayed”; it was also said that

“funding only went to a select few AA’s and sadly they were mainly in the Southern half of the UK”.

As I have mentioned, Scotland is the only part of the UK to have fully NHS-funded air ambulance provision. I would like to take this opportunity to share the detail of that model. The Scottish Ambulance Service, which works closely with Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance, has two helicopters and two planes, which are fully funded by the NHS. In 2019-20, 3,732 air ambulance missions were undertaken by the Scottish Ambulance Service. That amounts to just over 10 per day, or one every two hours and 20 minutes. Funded centrally, air ambulance services in Scotland have been provided for well over 30 years as part of the wider healthcare provision for the country, based on its unique geography and demographics, and before any charitable helicopter services commenced elsewhere in the UK. The Scottish model shows the potential of a hybrid charity and Government-funded model of air ambulances that, if emulated, would, I believe, serve other parts of the UK well. It addresses the risk that a drop in fundraising revenue poses to charity-only models, while protecting the independence of charity-funded services. Clearly, finding the solution need not be a “one or the other” situation, as Government-funded air ambulance services can operate alongside charity services, as Scotland shows.

In conclusion, this is quite a complex subject, with a range of models and challenges. I look forward to the debate and to hearing from the Minister about a way forward on this important matter.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for his considered speech. I am delighted, given that my constituents are so passionate about air ambulances, that this debate is taking place. This year alone, 13 incidents have been attended in Wakefield, and dozens more in the wider Yorkshire area, by the air ambulance helicopter or the rapid response vehicle. Yorkshire Air Ambulance is located at Nostell Priory, just outside Wakefield city centre, and has been marked as one of the best air ambulance facilities in the UK by the Civil Aviation Authority. It is therefore no surprise that the constituents of Wakefield hold their air ambulance in high regard.

Yorkshire Air Ambulance works closely with NHS emergency services, using a similar operational methodology that has been adopted by the NHS emergency service dispatch system, and with emergency staff and doctors on secondment to it. The services provided by the air ambulance are vital to Wakefield and the surrounding towns and villages, and to communities across West Yorkshire, in dealing with issues that cannot be dealt with as effectively by the employment of conventional ambulances alone. Some of the most experienced and highly qualified first responders are employed, complementing rather than competing with existing NHS emergency services. The high calibre of personnel employed by Yorkshire Air Ambulance means that bespoke responses can be delivered to meet the specific needs of Yorkshire’s most critically injured and unwell. Emergency surgery—including caesarean sections and open heart surgery—has on occasion, as we have heard, been conducted in the field.

The people of Wakefield, together with the rest of the United Kingdom, have rightly recognised in the petition that there is a clear need for a well-funded air ambulance. Bringing those services under the umbrella of emergency services could, however, result in a number of unintended consequences. First, doing so could unintentionally degrade the autonomy and flexibility that an independent regional air ambulance provides. If one compares Yorkshire Air Ambulance with London’s Air Ambulance, for example, one will see that there is a stark difference in the requirements needed, specific treatments provided and even frequency of use. London’s Air Ambulance predominantly focuses on violent injuries such as shootings and stabbings, while Yorkshire’s focuses more on road traffic accidents and cardiac arrests.

Even the geographical differences, such as terrain and urban density, make significant differences. A serious road traffic accident on the motorway network in my constituency could lead to simultaneous tailbacks on the M1, M62 and M621 into Leeds, and the A1/A1(M). The ability to land a helicopter directly at the scene means that lives can be saved in minutes. To the north of Yorkshire Air Ambulance’s operating area, it could be flying deep into the dales where there are no roads whatsoever.

As charities with their own independent operating procedures tailored to their specific local requirements, air ambulances have the ability to be flexible and to determine how they want their services to run. They are not subject to the constraints under which the public sector must, by necessity, operate, which is a constant issue facing the NHS when it comes to both day-to-day operations and emergency life-and-death situations. Rather, Yorkshire Air Ambulance is clearly a willing and constructive partner with its NHS colleagues, but critically does not form part of the NHS’s organisational structure.

Her Majesty’s Government have importantly made significant funds available to air ambulances, from LIBOR fines to recent financial support for their vital work throughout the pandemic. Upon inquiring, it has been made abundantly clear to me that Yorkshire Air Ambulance, as we have already heard from many of its colleagues around the UK, such as in Devon, is grateful for the stability that central Government grant funding provides, and would undoubtedly welcome further grants, but not if they are to come at the expense of its operational independence.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer, and to respond to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for leading it. I always admire the skill with which members of the Petitions Committee introduce a broad range of topics for discussion in Westminster Hall. His point about the extreme circumstances that crews face not just in transit but in what they find when they make their extraordinary journeys was really well made.

We often think most visibly about air ambulances landing in all sorts of places, whether that is motorways, as the hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) just said, or playing fields. We perhaps do not think so much about the extraordinary care that they give on the other end, whether that is caesarean sections, as we heard, open heart surgery or general anaesthetics—all sorts of things. It really is an incredible range of skills to be able both to get to the right place and then to provide the right care. We are truly lucky to have these individuals in our country.

The biggest thanks, of course, must go to Bethany Billington, who started the petition. I pay tribute to her sister, Lee-Anne Parkin, who tragically lost her life alongside her partner, Steve Carroll, in March 2019, as we have heard. It happened seven days after being taken to the trauma unit in Teesside following a motorcycle accident. Great North Air Ambulance was on the scene within minutes of the accident, and Bethany has praised its incredible efforts, and followed those words with actions of her own. She can be very proud of herself, and her sister’s legacy.

There are lots of parliamentary e-petitions, but it takes one that is truly special to get the 100,000 signatures required for a debate to be considered. In this case, there were more than 130,000 signatures before the e-petition closed prior to the last general election, which seems a long time ago. Bethany managed to secure this debate, and we are glad that she did.

I commend the hon. Member for Wakefield for his typically thoughtful contribution. He spoke about Wakefield and the many ways in which his constituents might need these services. There are significant parallels with my constituency in Nottingham, not least in that many of the roads that he mentioned also serve my community, and that his constituents’ high regard for these services mirrors that of my own. Our constituents will want us, their parliamentarians, to address the petition seriously and constructively, as we are doing today.

Let me start by stating how brilliant a contribution air ambulances make. Across the UK, there are about 70 life-saving missions each day. That is an extraordinary service provided to people who, by definition, really need it. A lot of loved ones are saved and lives are changed. In politics, we are never meant to say that we feel conflicted or have thoughts on both sides of an issue. We are supposed to have a firm and unequivocal view, but I do not have that on this issue; I find it quite conflicting.

One thing that makes this country so special is our national health service, which is there for us whoever we are, whatever we need and whenever we might need it. It is free at the point of need and funded by our taxes. I confess to having always found it a little odd that really important services, such as air ambulances and hospices—they are both, I believe, fundamental parts of the health service—are funded principally through charity. In reality, I am conscious that this is, to some extent, going to be a mixed economy. In 2018, the then Chancellor announced £10 million of capital funding to support air ambulances. I hope the Minister will update us on how this was used, its impact and any future plans, because clearly there is demand for such support.

The service is not cheap. The petition says that it costs about £12,000 each day to run; it may well be more. Air Ambulances UK says that each mission costs about £2,500. If there are 70 missions a day, that would put the daily figure at more than 10 times the one suggested in the petition. The real answer may be somewhere in between; either way, we can all agree that the work is priceless and we would never countenance it stopping because of a lack of money.

That gives me a certain confliction about whether air ambulances should be funded as a core NHS service. Happily, whatever my conflictions, the sector has rather resolved the issue for me. It says that it does not want to change its operating model, so I certainly shall not advocate that. If it wants to run the model in this way, and if it thinks that that gives it the best of both worlds and enables it to keep doing the wonderful things that it does—well, it is the expert. It is doing this great job, and it has my full backing.

The Government, via NHS England, still have an important role. At a minimum, they are a backer of last resort. Since the petition closed, events have put extraordinary pressures on charities and charitable giving. The Government were right—we supported them—to give air ambulances a £6 million covid-19 grant. That will have ensured that services that could have been under pressure will have been able to continue. Hopefully, when we get back to normal fundraising activities—perhaps the Minister will announce that he is running the London marathon to raise money for such causes; I will leave that space open for him—it will not be necessary to rely on Government support. Nevertheless, Governments across the UK should always commit to standing behind this crucial sector, in good times and in bad. I hope the Minister will affirm that today.

To conclude, one thing I have held in my head is the profound understanding that—given the volume of missions every day—while we have been having this debate, multiple people will have had to rely on air ambulance services. That is how important this is, and how much of a difference it makes to such individuals and the people who care about them. That is why this petition and this debate are so important. Air ambulances are there for us, and we must continue to support them in their work.

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister for Health (Edward Argar)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). As the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), said, when members of the Petitions Committee turn their hands to giving extremely well-informed and erudite speeches on whatever topics come through the Committee, they display a certain dexterity. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk for his thoughtful speech, as ever, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) and the shadow Minister, who made typically measured, sensible and thoughtful contributions to this important debate. Although what goes on in the main Chamber may attract more public attention, I often think that if more people were aware of what goes on in this Chamber, they would find that the tone of many debates is different from the one at the Dispatch Box in the Chamber, and that there is a genuinely constructive exchange of views.

As the shadow Minister said, to date more than 130,000 people have signed this petition, and I thank them all for highlighting this important issue for debate. Like him, I pay particular tribute to Bethany for her work in getting such a huge number of signatures for this petition and echo the words of other hon. Members in sending our sympathies to her family. If I may slightly crave your indulgence, Mr Stringer, although this is not directly related to air ambulances, I will take this opportunity —I suspect it may be the only chance I have to do so before Prorogation—to put on the record the condolences and sympathies of all in the House to the family and friends of ambulance technician Jeremy Daw, who was tragically killed at the weekend when on duty when his ambulance was hit by an object. It is important to put on the record our sympathies and condolences to his family and friends.

I pay tribute, as others have done, to the air ambulance charities and to their critical care teams of doctors and paramedics, who are among some of the most highly skilled pre-hospital clinicians in the world. They are capable of performing life-saving hospital-level procedures on patients at the roadside and saving lives. That includes administering general anaesthetic and, indeed, open heart surgery. When a life-threatening injury or medical emergency happens, patients need to be transferred to hospital as quickly as possible. In some cases, survival can depend entirely upon the vital life-saving work of the UK’s air ambulance charities. Air Ambulances UK figures show that, on average, air ambulance charities across the UK collectively complete more than 25,000 of these life-saving missions a year. To put that another way, as the shadow Minister did, every 10 minutes an air ambulance helicopter takes off somewhere to attend an accident or medical trauma.

Last year, I had the huge privilege of visiting the amazing charity London’s Air Ambulance. I saw at first hand the amazing work of the crew who undertake their life-saving missions day in and day out, working alongside the staff of the Royal London Hospital and the London ambulance service to care for the most critically ill patients. I pay tribute to the team there who showed me around—their comms team includes a former member of a member of my staff who now works there, Kirsty McKellar—for their forbearance as I displayed, shall we say, certain symptoms of vertigo while I climbed a ramp to the top of the hospital to see the helicopter on its pad.

The shadow Minister highlighted the cost of every take-off and every mission, so he will be reassured to hear that I did not avail myself of an opportunity to go up in the helicopter; that would not have been a good use of funds. However, I was able to talk to the team and to see their work at first hand. They were clear that they are incredibly proud of their charitable status and their work as a charity. They quite rightly raised a number of issues with me, one of which I will put on the record now: they ask that councils in London and those who have open spaces are always mindful of the need to try to keep those spaces accessible for London’s air ambulances so they can find somewhere to land in this busy city in which we stand today. I was incredibly grateful to the team not only for showing me around the air ambulance and showing me their procedures, but for their amazing work day in and day out. Indeed, I put on the record my gratitude to all the air ambulance charities.

We recognise that air ambulances provide an invaluable service to our NHS. They support the NHS emergency response on the ground and ensure patients get specialised care in both urban settings and hard-to-reach rural areas. Air ambulances also provide additional support to on-road ambulances at times of high demand through the use of critical care cars to increase capacity and ease pressures on NHS services. Additionally, air ambulance services have supported the national covid-19 response by using their aircraft to transfer patients, doctors and equipment, including medical supplies, between hospitals.

I turn now to the heart of the petition and the debate. Although air ambulances provide services to the NHS, it is right that they are not directly funded by the NHS, and that the majority of their resources are drawn from their fundraising activities. That is something that the air ambulance charities support, as hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, have alluded to. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk set out, it is not about the predictability or certainty of Government funding; there are other things that make the charities support the current model. For example, Anna Perry, the chief executive of the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity, said, “In terms of funding and our day-to-day costs, we value the independence our charitable funding provides us. If we identify that our patients need a different kind of treatment or approach, then we can be responsive to those needs. We cover a diverse area, from the Forest of Dean to Cirencester, and from Bath to Weston-super-Mare, and our funding means we remain flexible and innovative in responding to what our communities need from our life-saving service.”

Similarly, the chief exec of the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance said, “While there are benefits to being Government-funded, as an independent, highly regulated charity, we greatly value the ability to be flexible to the changing needs of our patients—for example, by having the ability to quickly adapt to new technologies and medicines. The Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance”—I believe it covers the constituency of the hon. Member for Nottingham North—“is very much a part of the communities we serve. We are funded by them and are accountable to them.”

I will share a final quote to emphasise the view from the charities. Amanda McLean, who is the chief executive of Thames Valley Air Ambulance, said, “Operating within a charitable model allows air ambulance charities up and down the country to provide efficient, responsive and tailored care to best meet the needs of their communities. By working independently, embedded within our local areas, we are able to collaborate and share best practice while offering a service that is targeted to meet the specific challenges we each face.”

Those are a few examples, and hon. Members have given similar examples from different chief executives of different charities. As the shadow Minister said, it is important that we listen to what the charities that run the air ambulances are telling us.

As has been alluded to, that is not to say that the Government do not provide significant support to the sector. In 2019, the Department of Health and Social Care launched a three-year capital grant programme, which allocated £10 million to nine air ambulance charities across England. These capital schemes provide a range of new equipment and upgrades to support air ambulance services to move towards 24/7 operations, allowing more patients in need of an emergency response to be reached. The funding will also support the modernisation of facilities at seven air bases across England, including building interactive training suites to better prepare crews for challenging conditions, with the addition of seven new critical care cars and a new helicopter.

As hon. Members have mentioned, last year the Government announced a further £6 million of covid-19 emergency funding for Air Ambulances UK to distribute to the air ambulance charities in order to ensure that each charity could continue to provide its life-saving services during the pandemic. Like the shadow Minister and hon. Members who have spoken, I believe that was the right thing to do, as the charitable fundraising activities that they would normally undertake were clearly impacted on by the constraints imposed by the pandemic and the restrictions that were necessary to tackle it. Of course, we support air ambulances through close collaboration with the NHS. For example, NHS ambulance services commonly provide key clinical staff and medical equipment to support air ambulance operations.

Given how vital such services are, it is not surprising that our electors—the public—are keen to see them funded by the Government as part of the NHS. Having listened to the sector, however, our view remains that the charitable model for air ambulances remains the right one—a view that, as I say, is shared by the sector’s independent professional body, Air Ambulances UK. That model has been a long-standing success; London’s Air Ambulance was established as a charity as far back as 1989, and I believe it has now helped more than 40,000 patients.

Decisions on the provision of services for the safe delivery of care are best made at local level. Maintaining a charitable model gives charities and the air ambulance the independence they need, as I alluded to in the earlier quotes, to deliver specialised services tailored to the needs of patients in each locality. A charitable model is also, in many ways, a more feasible way to fund the high capital and revenue costs associated with helicopter emergency medical services, including purchasing and maintaining helicopters. It also gives charities the independence to raise funds through commercial activity and sponsorship with their commercial partners.

Before the pandemic struck, I had the privilege of visiting and—for a brief period—helping in the Birstall air ambulance shop in my constituency, which supports the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance service. It would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to put on record my gratitude to it, as my local air ambulance service, for the amazing work it does, day in and day out, across that part of the east midlands. Indeed, even during the pandemic last year, two new helicopters were delivered to help to support that service. I believe it is the only air ambulance service that delivers a children’s air ambulance service. Let me put on record my gratitude for and recognition of the amazing work it does.

I believe, and the charities believe, that the current model still represents the best route to funding our air ambulances—those cherished institutions—because it gives them local flexibility to do what they need to do. In future, we want to build on the success of air ambulance services and their contribution to the delivery of safe and effective care to the nation. As part of transforming how urgent and emergency care operates, NHS England and NHS Improvement have been working with ambulance services on new ways to deliver care to patients. For example, rather than conveying all patients to hospitals, ambulance services are developing new ways to give healthcare advice through video consultations and by referring patients to a greater number of services in primary care in the community. As we move to a new model of integrated care, each system will have the duty to collaborate with health and care organisations in their local area, including considering how air ambulances can best contribute to their network of urgent and emergency care services.

Essential public donations combined with significant funding contributions from Government—be it for capital or in extremis, as we saw during the covid pandemic—will ensure that the air ambulance charities can continue to provide their world-class care for a patient-centred approach that works for the population they serve. Both the Government and Air Ambulances UK strongly believe that that is best achieved through a charitable model. I encourage everyone to support their local air ambulance charities, even if I do not give in to the gentle temptation offered by the shadow Minister to run the London marathon.

During these unprecedented times, I reiterate my unreserved thanks, and the thanks of all hon. Members who spoke and from across the House, to the staff at the air ambulance charities for continuing to provide their world-leading, life-saving care to patients and their local communities across the UK. They are genuinely inspirational to us all. There is a reason why so many people donate so generously to their air ambulance charities: they know that one day, they could be the one who needs that air ambulance. I suspect that across the country, there is the same huge admiration and gratitude for the fantastic work that these charities do every day.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day
- Hansard - Excerpts

We have had a thoughtful and informed debate. I hope we have successfully highlighted the tremendous work of air ambulances throughout these islands, and I hope we have given them a publicity boost for their charitable work and the donations they require. As I discovered in my research, this is a very complex matter, with a range of models across the country, and perhaps a one-size-fits-all solution is not what is needed. There are a lot of lessons we can still learn, and I look forward to finding out more in the weeks and months ahead.

Question put and agreed to. 


That this House has considered e-petition 259892, relating to air ambulance funding.

Sitting suspended. 

Government Response

Wednesday 3rd July 2019

NHS ambulance services provide clinical staff and equipment to air ambulance charities. A charitable model gives charities independence to deliver specialised, specific services to each locality.

Air ambulance services are not NHS funded and are provided by 18 charitable organisations across England, with the majority of their resources supported by their own fundraising activities.

We recognise that Air Ambulances provide a valuable service, including to remote locations through both delivery of a specialist team to an incident, and patient transportation back to treatment centres. Air Ambulance crews treat people in critical conditions who rely on urgent treatment before they can reach a hospital. They support the wider NHS emergency response on the ground, ensuring patients get specialised care in both urban settings and hard-to-reach rural areas.

Many Ambulance Trusts across England currently work in partnership with Air Ambulance providers from the commercial and charity sectors to deliver services. NHS England works closely with Air Ambulance charities at a local level as part of their considerations of the urgent and emergency care mix in different areas of the country. The NHS Long Term Plan will improve emergency care for all patients, including those treated by Air Ambulances charities.

Since April 2002, the NHS has been instructed to provide and fund the cost of some staff on a number of Air Ambulances. However, as decisions on the provision of services for the safe delivery of care are best made at a local level, the level of funding support varies from charity to charity; some charities fully fund their own medical staff on their ambulance, whilst others receive more NHS funding support. Both the type of service provided, and the level of funding support will be driven by local issues such as geography and demography. There are high capital and revenue costs associated with helicopter emergency medical services, including purchasing and maintaining helicopter provision.

However, we have made provisions for substantial funding support in this and previous budgets to help ensure that Air Ambulance charities are equipped to provide lifesaving care to patients in need. This year, Air Ambulance charities across England have been invited to bid for a share of £10 million capital funding to invest in new equipment and upgrade facilities to support them in delivering services to patients across England.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Air Ambulances (APPGAA) is a group of MPs and peers dedicated to highlighting issues and opportunities around Air Ambulance services with policy makers. We will continue to work closely with the sector to ensure patients continue to benefit from these services. Essential public donations, combined with periodic funding contributions from the Government, will ensure these charities can have world-class facilities to match their reputation for world-class care, through a patient-centred approach which works for the population they serve.

Department of Health and Social Care.

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