Guest post: London’s Air Ambulance – What they do and how you can help

Guest post from Air Ambulance volunteer  speaker and fundraiser Simon Trill on the amazing work they do, and how the public play a critical role through public donations given they are not funded by the NHS.

With the sight & sound of a helicopter flying over SE9 sending Facebook users into a meerkat-like frenzy, the appearance of London’s Air Ambulance’s red aircraft will, unfortunately, usually  mean someone is seriously injured.

Bringing the hospital to the roadside, their mission is “to provide our patients with the world’s most innovative and effective pre-hospital care”. They serve over 10 million people who live, work and travel in the capital and cover the area approximately bordered by the M25 – a geography of 600 square miles.

Established as a charity in 1989, over the past 29 years London’s Air Ambulance (LAA) have treated almost 39,000 seriously injured patients. With the average speed of London traffic being 9mph, even on blue lights & sirens that speed can be less than 20mph at certain times of the day. Time is critical and the aircraft is the most effective way of delivering the advanced trauma team to the patient.

Getting to someone in the “golden hour”, the first 60 minutes after a trauma, is critical in determining not only survival, but also the patient’s quality of life following recovery. Even in an urban environment like London, the average trauma patient will spend most of this golden hour outside the hospital. LAA provide treatments to correct a lack of oxygen, re-inflate collapsed lungs and prevent serious blood loss as soon as they reach the patient’s side. Delays in these critical interventions before arrival at hospital will worsen outcomes.

Response time

Using the helicopter during daylight hours & fast response cars at night/during bad weather, LAA gets a Dr/Consultant and a Paramedic to the scene as quickly as possible. From the base at the Royal London hospital, the helicopter is launched within 4 minutes of a call & has an average flight time of 7 minutes. By air, they can be anywhere within the M25 in 15 minutes from the point of alert.

The helicopter has Alpha clearance from Air Traffic Control & takes priority over every other aircraft in London. A call to a patient at Heathrow would actually temporarily close the Heathrow runways whilst LAA flies and lands.

Despatched automatically to serious stabbings/gunshots (puncture wounds), people under trains, falls from height and serious road traffic collisions, LAA has played a major role in all of the large-scale incidents in London over the last 29 years; Paddington, Cannon St & Southall rail crashes; 7/7 bombings; Westminster/London Bridge attacks, Croydon tram crash and the Grenfell Tower fire. LAA normally takes medical control of an incident due to being the most senior personnel on the scene.


LAA was the first air ambulance in the UK to always fly with a doctor on-board, was the first to provide a 24/7 service, was the first to administer anaesthetic on-scene, was the first to perform open heart surgery at the roadside, was the first to always carry units of blood on-board and was the first to administer blood transfusions.

Originally funded by sponsorship from Express Newspapers and then the Virgin group, a major part of the development & support staff’s focus at LAA is fundraising. It costs approximately £10.2m per year to operate the service. The medics are seconded from the Barts NHS Trust & the Paramedics from the London Ambulance Service (£2m per year) plus a grant from the Barts NHS Trust (£900k) helps with the costs, but £7.3m needs to be raised each year to continue to provide this critical service to London.

Public help

The average operational cost of each mission this year is expected to be £1700. In 2017 LAA attended to 1,797 patients (with 59 missions being located in Greenwich borough) and are expecting a similar number for 2018.

Two thirds of Londoners don’t realise LAA is a charity reliant on donations – they believe it to be a fully funded part of the NHS. From fundraising through major events (sponsored runners in the London Marathon etc), to their own events (abseiling from the Royal London helipad), to public bucket collections, monthly donations and a weekly lottery, LAA are always looking for volunteers to help fundraise and spread our story.

If you would like to donate, either as a one-off, a regular monthly sum or to join the weekly lottery, please click here:

If you’re able to donate some of your time to help, please email Sophie:

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Many thanks

J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

One thought on “Guest post: London’s Air Ambulance – What they do and how you can help

  • Thank you for everything you do.


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