THE first flying doctor helicopter service to operate outside London is about to go live in the region.

A team of doctors from James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough has joined forces with the Great North Air Ambulance Service.

If the service is a success, it could become the model for similar operations in other parts of the UK.

Based at Teesside Airport, the service will provide an enhanced medical cover for Teesside, South Durham and North Yorkshire.

Within minutes of receiving a call, a helicopter crew can pick up a medic from the hospital on its way to the scene of the emergency.

Grahame Pickering, chief executive of the Great North Air Ambulance Service, said; "The doctors joining us are specialists in pre-hospital medicine, as well as being trained in accident and emergency medicine and anaesthetics."

Mr Pickering said the new service was expected to be operational by October 1.

He said it would be the only one in the UK apart from the Virgin Air Ambulance Service which operates in the capital.

The new service provided by the Great North Air Ambulance Service has been made possible by the co-operation of James Cook University Hospital.

Managers at the hospital recently moved its helipad closer to the accident and emergency department to cut delays and speed up treatment.

Mr Pickering said it was hoped to eventually extend the flying doctor service to the Great North Air Ambulance Service's second helicopter, which is based at Blyth in Northumberland.

Until then, the Blyth air ambulance would continue to carry two paramedics and a pilot, he added.

Doctors who have volunteered to join the air ambulance service have had to undergo a training schedule, including navigation, complex communication, safety awareness and helicopter systems.

"They have also been practising how to ditch in open water," said Mr Pickering.

Kyee Han, clinical director of accident and emergency services at James Cook hospital, said: "Hopefully, if we prove a point, there may be other air ambulances in other parts of the country.

"We hope that lives will be saved by this new service."

The air ambulance service is a charity which needs to raise more than £1m a year to operate. Information is available on www greatnorthair or by telephoning (01325) 487263.