SCOTLAND’S first charity-funded air ambulance service took to the skies yesterday in a move that will extend life-saving cover across the country.
The new “people’s air ambulance” service, based at Perth Airport, will improve clinical care in communities throughout Scotland, supplementing the pilots and paramedics of the Scottish Ambulance Service who already undertake more than 3,500 missions a year.
The new Scottish Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) service, which will cost £1.5 million a year to run, will provide an additional resource during daylight hours, adding more flexibility to the fully-funded air ambulance service, which operates two helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft based in Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen. The new SCAA helicopter will also be crewed by Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) paramedics.
The lift-off for the new service marked the culmination of a four-year campaign by a dedicated group of Scottish businessmen, headed by John Bullough, a former Scots Guard officer who owns the independent department department store group, McEwens of Perth.
Mr Bullough said: “Today’s launch marks a real milestone for everyone involved with Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance. Our dream has finally become a reality and we are all very proud. To have a resource like this for all the people of Scotland is just tremendous – but it will take each and every one of us to maintain this vital life-saving service.”
He explained: “We all had a joint vision for the establishment of a charity ambulance service in Scotland. Scotland has a pretty unfortunate combination of having some of the most remote communities in Europe, combined with some of its most dangerous roads.
“There are six deaths or serious injuries every day on Scottish roads and 80 per cent of the accidents are on rural routes.
“If you add to that the heart attacks and the strokes and agricultural accidents, there is an enormous amount of business out there to be done on a daily basis.”
Mr Bullough said the service represented a “significant opportunity” to complement and supplement the Scottish Ambulance Service and to make Scotland a much safer place.
He continued: “Perth is an incredibly central location and within a 20-minute flight time of 90 per cent of Scotland’s population.
“This will be the people’s air ambulance, funded by the public and supported by communities the length and breadth of the country who recognise the value of fast-reaction clinical air support in the face of mishap, illness and tragedy.”
Mr Bullough, who is SCAA chairman, stressed that £1.5m would have to be raised every year to keep the new service in the air. He said: “This is the beginning not the end for us. But I am absolutely confident that, once the Scottish people see this air ambulance going out and saving lives – and it will save hundreds of lives – they will get behind it on the fundraising front.”
The introduction of the new service was praised by both the Scottish Government and theSAS.
Health secretary Alex Neil said: “The Scottish Ambulance Service air ambulance is the only publicly-funded air ambulance service in the UK and it continues to be providing a vital service for patients across Scotland. I hope that this new charity funded air ambulance will help to enhance the provision of air ambulances across the country.”
He added: “It is important that patients can rely on the provision of a safe, responsive and high-quality air ambulance service and the funds raised by this charity will help to continue to deliver a world-class, future-proof service that has been specifically designed to benefit patients throughout Scotland.”
Pauline Howie, chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service, said the charity provision would be a “welcome addition” to its fleet.
She said: “The additional helicopter will bring more flexibility and resilience to air ambulance operations across Scotland. It will be crewed by our own paramedics and tasked by our Ambulance Control Centre in the same way as our own aircraft.”