AIRBORNE paramedics are swapping their helicopter for a road vehicle to provide an all-night rapid response car after a trial proved successful.

The Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) and North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) have teamed up to provide a doctor-led trauma team to cover the hours of darkness – when the charity’s air ambulances do not fly.

The team began work on a trial basis in April last year and a report published by GNAAS this week shows that the MERIT service responded to 420 calls and treated 233 patients in that time.

The crew has attended incidents all across the North-East, with most cases being in urban areas such as Newcastle, Durham, Darlington and Middlesbrough, with shootings, stabbings and serious trauma road traffic accidents some of the types of incident attended so far.

Grahame Pickering MBE, chief executive at GNAAS, said: “Before we started this service there was no trauma team available after the aircraft finished work for the day.

“Now, we are able to perform blood and plasma transfusions, administer anaesthetic and perform surgery on scene. It’s making a real difference and giving patients a chance where previously they wouldn’t have had one.”

Under Department of Health guidance, ambulance services throughout the country are now required to provide a MERIT service to ensure a doctor-led response is available around-the-clock for the most seriously injured or ill patients.

In daylight hours, this service is provided by the air ambulance and crew. When night falls, a fresh GNAAS crew transfers to a rapid response vehicle which carries all the same life-saving equipment as its airborne counterpart.

Chief operating officer from NEAS, Paul Liversidge, said: “Working closely with partners GNAAS we have been able to make a real difference to critically ill patients using this scheme when there may not have otherwise been the same access to such enhanced care.”

Andy Mawson, deputy director of operations at GNAAS, said the service was reliant on a strong working relationship.

“The key to this is the call-handlers in ambulance control,” he said. “Without their knowledge and experience of when and where to dispatch, we wouldn’t be able to get out there and make a difference. They’ve handled it brilliantly so far, so credit must go to them.”