News Hub

Children’s Air Ambulance undertakes first ECMO transfer

Children’s Air Ambulance undertakes first ECMO transfer

The lifesaving Children’s Air Ambulance (TCAA) has achieved another milestone by undertaking its first ECMO transfer to help a critically ill young child get to the specialist care they urgently needed.

The national transfer service provides the only intensive care helicopter in the country dedicated to transferring critically ill babies and children, at high-speed, from local hospitals to specialist paediatric and neonatal treatment centres.

The charity works closely with 11 NHS Clinical Partner Teams across the country – including the Heart Link ECMO Centre in Leicester – and uniquely offers ECMO (Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation) functionality onboard its new AgustaWestland 169 aircraft.

ECMO, a system similar to a heart and lung bypass machine, is a temporary means of providing oxygen to the body when a child’s heart and/or lungs are not working effectively, and normal methods of intensive care are failing.

On 31st January 2023, TCAA and the dedicated team at Leicester ECMO worked together to transfer a poorly young child from a hospital in Birmingham to one in Newcastle, made possible by the ECMO intensive care functionality designed and delivered by TCAA.

The vital transfer took just 1 hour and 26 minutes, compared to a journey of 3 hours and 38 minutes via road ambulance – without considering any potential traffic delays or potential issues of uneven road surfaces.

Commenting on the first ECMO transfer, Dr Chris Harvey, ECMO Consultant and Director of ECMO, at Leicester Children’s Hospital said:

“Moving patients on ECMO is logistically difficult and having such a professional and well-organised team such as TCAA to help in moving these critically ill children is fantastic. TCAA has worked incredibly hard with the ECMO team at Leicester to provide the necessary equipment to fly these patients who are the sickest of the sick.

“Being able to move children for ongoing specialist care quickly and safely can prove lifesaving. By using TCAA in the transfer of this child the time spent outside the safe intensive care unit, in the hostile big wide world, was cut by over 2 hours. This time saving could make a real difference to these children.”

The Children’s Air Ambulance charity is continually looking at ways in which they can increase support to the NHS and the clinical teams it works alongside. Since introducing ECMO and Nitric Oxide capabilities onboard its aircraft, it has further introduced England’s first incubators (Neonatal Transport Systems) on a helicopter to assist specialist NHS transport teams during lifesaving flights.

“On behalf of the charity, I am incredibly delighted that we were able to support the hardworking ECMO NHS specialist transport team with our first ECMO mission to transfer the young patient quickly and safely,” expressed TCAA Head of Operations, Alfie Daly.

“These lifesaving equipment developments we continue to provide onboard our helicopters enable us to undertake complex and important missions like these, so we can keep hope alive and help as many patients and families as possible,” he added.

This year, the national charity is celebrating its 10th year of vital transfer missions thanks to the generous backing of its supporters.