A FAMILY who were left with devastating injuries following a horrific car crash said they would not be here if it was not for the NHS.

Darren Handyside and his children Jack and Sophie suffered catastrophic injuries when their car collided head-on with another on the A68 near Staindrop, County Durham, in 2012.

The emergency services quickly rushed to the scene and with the help of three air ambulances, the trio were airlifted to hospital where trauma doctors took them straight to theatre.

Mr Handyside, from Barnard Castle, suffered severe abdominal injuries including a shattered pelvis, right shoulder and fractured elbow as well as 12 broken ribs, a cracked sternum and internal bleeding.

Jack, ten, had a bleed on the brain and had to have a titanium plate fitted while Sophie, eight, fractured her skull and wrist which has left her with hypermobility.

Mr Handyside, 50, said: "There were three air ambulances there and we do not like to think what the consequences could have been."

The children were both flown to the children's wing of the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle, while Mr Handyside was taken to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

And despite spending days in intensive care and the high dependency unit, Mr Handyside said the staff went out of their way to keep him updated on his children's conditions.

"Because of the major trauma and as luck had it, the best tow brain surgeons in England were at the RVI when Jack and Sophie were taken there which was a massive stroke of luck," the Army veteran said. "I did not get any word for quite a while because I was in intensive care for a few days and then I got put on a high dependency unit.

"The crash happened on the Saturday and I did not know until the following Friday what had happened to Jack and Sophie because I was so ill but one of the nurses who was outstanding, organised a call and was passing messages to the senior nurse at the RVI so we knew what was going on.

"They deserve a medal for what they have done for us."

Jack was in hospital for more than six months; Sophie for two months and Mr Handyside for nine weeks.

Mr Handyside had metal plates fixed into his pelvis but still has constant pain from his injuries. He was reliant on a wheelchair for years and still uses sticks for support but said he is getting there and has started to drive again.

Jack and Sophie, now 16 and 14 respectively, still receive regular check ups and support form the NHS.

"Jack lost a year out of school and Sophie came round really good but they will both have problems for the rest of their lives," Mr Handyside said. "They are still under the care of the NHS and they do brilliant things. You can't really explain how important the NHS is until something happens to you it really is just fantastic."

The family continue to raise funds for the air ambulance charities that saved their lives and charity nights are organised by Jack and Sophie's mum, Julie Elstob with the help of their grandparents Jean and Tim Elstob.

Commenting on the state of the NHS, Mr Handyside urged people to fight for it.

"The NHS has to keep going, you never know when you will need it," he said.