Pride of Cumbria air ambulance service diversifies to survive
Last updated at 14:32, Wednesday, 06 October 2010
It has become a routine part of daily life in Cumbria. Barely a week passes without news that the county’s Pride of Cumbria Air Ambulance has taken to the skies, bringing emergency medical help to people in desperate need, whether on the fells or in remote rural areas.
From its Langwathby base, near Penrith, the helicopter flies between three and five missions every day.
Over the six years since it first took to the skies, the team who run the service have saved scores of lives.
They have also eased the suffering of hundreds of others who otherwise would have faced a long journey by ambulance before being treated by a doctor at hospital.
Yet despite the huge value of its work, Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) has no guaranteed funding.
Like all charities, it faces the endless daily challenge of raising the money it needs to pay for the service – which is no small feat when your annual running costs are just under £4 million.
There is a long list of people who believe that no price could adequately reflect the value of this charity’s work.
They include motorist Andy Sherlock, who suffered a collapsed lung when his car was hit by a 44-ton chemical tanker near Keswick on the A66. The force of the impact was such that it shattered eight of Andy’s ribs, the bone shards puncturing his lung.
Thankfully, less than 15 minutes after the collision, Dr Theo Weston and paramedic Terry Sharpe were at his side, delivering emergency care.
Calmly, quickly, and with a skill born of experience, Dr Weston and his colleague reinflated Andy’s lung.
Several months later, after making a full recovery, Andy returned to Cumbria to thank the men who gave him the gift of life that day.
He also vowed to raise £1 for every single day of the rest of his life for the GNAAS charity.
Sadly, as economic austerity looms large, there are no guarantees for any charity. All face a daily battle for a seemingly ever diminishing pool of cash which is needed by numerous good causes. But unlike some charities, GNAAS has already steered itself through one crisis and emerged stronger.
In 2005, just six months after it was launched, the charity revealed that a cash crisis had forced the grounding of the Pride of Cumbria.
The reason was two disasters that nobody could have predicted: the Asian tsunami and the Cumbrian floods.
As the eyes of the world turned to those suffering at home and abroad, their money followed the headlines.
“It hit our cash flow instantly,” explained GNAAS chief executive Grahame Pickering, a former paramedic. “I remember getting a letter from a woman who had raised £1,000 for us but she told me she’d be sending £700 to those other causes, saying she was sure I’d understand.”
Yet despite the blow of seeing public’s cash flowing to other charities, GNAAS clawed back its funds and was airborn just a few months later. It also learned a vital lesson. Graham said: “We learned not to be totally dependent a single donations – and to diversify our income streams.
“Public donations are vital to what we do and represent 40 per cent of the total money that we get but our legacy programme kicked in; we now have a lottery which grows constantly; and we have more people signing up to donate via standing orders.
“We also now have an extremely active trading company that recycles clothing, which we do ourselves. This year alone, that company has produced £450,000.
“Shaking a tin is extremely important and will continue to be but you have to diversify.”
But of all the things that affect a charity’s income perhaps the most important, said Graham, is raising public awareness of what you do – and why it matters. In this respect, Graham is more than happy to share his own personal story and explain how it helped shape his vision for the charity.
He said: “When I worked as a paramedic, the idea of having a doctor on board a helicopter was inconceivable.
“I worked as a paramedic on a helicopter provided by the local ambulance service.
“I did many, many jobs, where I did my best but I had to work within what were called my professional protocols – and I had people die on board the helicopter with me before we could get to hospital.
“That affected me as a paramedic. When I started to look at it I realised I wanted an extra skill level on board.
“You may need that extra level of skill in only 10 per cent of cases but boy does it matter.”
In short, taking a doctor to critically ill patients when they most need it is a model of care that saves lives.
“We determined that this was going to be our model, stuck to it and delivered it,” said Graham.
So should the service be publicly funded rather than dependent on the fundraising expertise of staff? Graham says: “I personally feel that would be a disaster.
“It’s been estimated that there has been an 11 to 14 per cent drop in funding for charities but the ones that have been critically affected are the ones which either receive grants from government organisations or have service contracts with government organisations.
“They’re the ones which have felt the blow. Because we have never relied on government grants or service contracts, it has affected us less. In fact, last year, our income went up.”
Another positive spin-off of raising your own cash is the very real independence that comes with that.
Grahame and Dr Weston both feel proud that GNAAS is a clinically-led service.
Dr Weston, who also works for the Penrith Beep Fund, bringing emergency doctor-led care to accident victims at the roadside, believes totally in the charity’s care model.
He questions why such a sensible and effective systems is not part of NHS standard practice as it is in other parts of the world.
Dr Weston added: “I think what we do – taking the emergency room to the casualty – must surely make a huge difference. Our ambulance service is excellent but as doctors we can do a lot more than paramedics in terms of medical interventions, including pre-hospital anaesthesia in head injury cases.
“These things can make the difference between life and death or reduce the likelihood of disability.
“The advantage of GNAAS is that we govern ourselves and we’re clinician led.”
One man needs no convincing just how ital GNAAS is to Cumbria, and those who visit the county, is Andy Sherlock, who after thanking Dr Weston and his colleagues said: “They were absolutely superb. I believe if it hadn’t been for the air ambulance and its crew, that I’d not be here today.”
For the time being at least, the future of GNAAS remains very much in the hands of the public it serves.
Visit http://www.greatnorthairambulance.co.uk to find out more about the GNAAS.
First published at 11:34, Wednesday, 06 October 2010
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk