Northern collaborative celebrate life-saving milestone

Emergency services from across the Northern region came together today to celebrate a very special milestone for the North East and Cumbria’s lifesaving ‘Blood on Board’ service.

The service, which was introduced in 2015, saw the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) begin to carry blood and plasma on board their aircraft and overnight cars.

Called ‘Blood on Board’ it allowed the critical care team to deliver transfusions at the scene of an incident, to the most seriously ill or injured patients, giving them the best chance of survival.

This treatment was not previously possible outside of a hospital setting, and it has now been used to treat 500 patients across the North East and Cumbria.

Pioneering collaboration

The pioneering ‘Blood on Board’ scheme is a collaboration between the Newcastle Hospitals, GNAAS and volunteers from the Cumbria and Northumbria Blood Bikes and was devised by Dr Rachel Hawes OBE, army reservist, consultant in anaesthesia and prehospital emergency medicine at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) and doctor at GNAAS.

To honour those that have received this treatment, and celebrate reaching this 500-patient milestone, the collaborative team hosted a special reception at the RVI on Saturday 11 June for patients who have received blood and their loved ones.

Dr Rachel Hawes, who is the driving force behind the concept, said: “It’s been such a rewarding experience and I can’t believe we’ve now treated 500 patients.

“Knowing that it’s potentially helped to save the lives of people in our communities in the North East and Cumbria has been one of the highlights of my career.”

Life-saving treatment

25-year-old Bethany Oliver received blood back in 2015 when she was involved in a road traffic collision. Although Bethany now needs around the clock care, she wouldn’t be alive today without the scheme.

Bethany’s mum, Claire, said: “Bethany received the blood straight away on scene after the crash and without this, she wouldn’t have even made it to hospital. The air ambulance saved her life.”

The event will see patients who wouldn’t have survived without this intervention, and the loved ones of patients who sadly didn’t make it although they received the treatment, come together in one place to meet the teams that impacted their lives.

Dr Rachel Hawes said: “When we attend 999 calls of critically ill and injured patients, we get a very brief snapshot of the events that have affected them and care for them at one of the most difficult times in their lives.

“This is often very intense but only a short part of their journey. It’ll be great to catch up with people and find out how they’re getting on and speak to families who have been involved.”

In what is set to be an emotional day, attendees will have the opportunity to meet the pioneers behind the concept for the first time, take a look around GNAAS’ helicopter on the RVI helipad, visit the blood transfusion lab, meet the Blood Bikers and meet other patients & their loved ones.

Before ‘Blood on Board’ was introduced, patients would have to wait until they had been transferred to the nearest Major Trauma Centre for highly specialist treatment.

Unseen heroes

Dr Hawes paid tribute to all those involved for making the project possible. She said: “Delivering this project has been down to teamwork on every level and we wouldn’t be able to run this service without all of their hard work.

“The transfusion lab team at the RVI do all the unseen work in the background to prepare and package up the units for us and make sure it’s all safe, and the teams from Northumbria Blood Bikes and Blood Bikes Cumbria provide a daily delivery service to both of our air bases 365 days per year come rain or shine.

“This saves GNAAS approximately £50,000 in delivery costs per year alone so without them, we just couldn’t afford to run the service.”

Alison Muir, transfusion lab manager at the RVI added: “Working with GNAAS on the ‘Blood on Board’ service has increased the laboratory’s understanding of the role of transfusion support in pre-hospital medicine. It’s been an exciting journey for the Transfusion Laboratory.”

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