Fundraisers for the country’s last combined police and air ambulance helicopter called on local residents to back them even more yesterday, after launching a £2.5 million a year appeal to go it alone.
Wiltshire’s much-loved air ambulance will be stripped of its police element in December this year when the constabulary is forced to axe its own aerial support.
That means to keep an air ambulance in the skies over Wiltshire, the charity has to raise the full £2.5 million costs, rather than £700,000 it has been raising every year until now.
Yesterday, the trustees said they had faith in the people of Wiltshire to come up with the money, and were so confident they signed a deal with US firm Bell Helicopters to supply a new, state-of-the-art chopper for the next ten years.
Wiltshire will be the first air ambulance in the country to operate the new Bell 429 helicopter, which is faster, bigger and has a longer range than other helicopters. The change has happened because the Government has insisted all police forces sign up to the National Police Air Service, which operates police helicopters from strategic locations. That NPAS does not include a joint operation, and does not include any police helicopter based in Wiltshire. Police chiefs in the county will have to summon a police helicopter from Bristol or Dorset.
Trust chairman Richard Youens said the deal was the result of two years of review and planning, and there was never a question that the Wiltshire Air Ambulance would not fold, despite having to now go it alone with such a big jump in costs.
“It’s down to the people of Wiltshire to find £2.5 million a year and we’re very grateful to them,” he said. “Judging from the support we have had, the air ambulance will be flying for many years to come.”
“We think it can be done, in fact we know it can. We were able to raise £700,000 a year with one lady doing the fundraising, now we have a team of very good people,” he added. Mr Youens said that, knowing the split with the police was imminent, the team set itself the challenge of raising £1.6 million in 2013.
“We pushed the target up from what was pretty much a standing start, and we’ve now reached £1.94 million for the year just gone. I think we will be able to raise the £2.5 million. The air ambulance seems to be in the forefront of everyone’s minds. We know we are a big county and there’s a lot of open space that road ambulances cannot get to,” he added.
Trustees said that they now enjoyed a ‘great’ relationship with South Western Ambulance Trust, which took over from GWAS last year. Peter Foskett said: “It’s like life insurance – you don’t want to have to claim on it, but if that day comes you’ll be extremely grateful that the air ambulance is there. It’s there for those things which we hope will never happen to us – it saves lives, an awful lot of lives.
“The golden hour is crucial in getting them to the right hospital as quickly as possible,” he added.
Mr Foskett said that the air ambulance trustees met regularly with NHS bosses to, in part, make sure that the air ambulance was being ‘called out inappropriately, to meet their targets’.