Date: Tuesday April 28, 2020 at 11:49am
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The Puma helicopter, which is part of the Aviation Task Force detachment at Kinloss Barracks, travelled to Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra on the Western Isles to work with personnel from NHS Scotland and HM Coast Guard in the fight against coronavirus.  Operating as part of the tri-Service Joint Helicopter Command, the experienced RAF crews were able to ensure that the emergency care teams are familiar with the aircraft ahead of any potential medical evacuations from the remote islands.  They were also able to provide the front-line staff with vital information on the capabilities that they can offer to ensure that patients can be transported to critical care facilities on the mainland as quickly and safely as possible.

As well as basic familiarisation with the aircraft such as how to approach a Puma helicopter safely, specific training was undertaken for potential medical evacuations.  This included how to board the aircraft safely, how to load a stretcher onto the aircraft, how stretchers are secured by the crews and where medical staff can be positioned to safely continue to treat the patient during transit.  The RAF crews were also able to familiarise themselves with the landing sites that they may be required to use, which can save vital minutes during a medical evacuation. 

Squadron Leader Johnny Longland, the Puma Detachment Commander explained: 

“We have paramedics from the islands working with our crewmen to look at how they can integrate their equipment with the Puma.  The NHS Scotland and HM Coast Guard teams of paramedics, clinicians and planners were primarily looking at how they can put stretchers in the back of the aircraft and continue to perform their essential care for the patient.”

Mr Gordon Jamieson, Chief Executive of NHS Western Isles and Chair of the Resilience Pandemic Group, said:

“Having the Puma helicopter here, and military colleagues and other emergency services, is very important as it’s a mission critical part of our resilience to ensure that, in the event that we need to evacuate patients, a system is in place and it will work effectively.  It’s really reassuring to have the asset here and all the associated personnel.  Here in the Western Isles we are behind the UK, and in fact behind mainland Scotland, [in coronavirus infection rates] but we are not complacent about that.  We do expect in a few weeks’ time that we will potentially feel the full force of COVID-19 and so we are using this time to be prepared and to plan every single day so that we’re ready when that challenge comes.”

Group Captain Adam Wardrope, the Commander of the Aviation Task Force Covid Support Force said:

“The Puma helicopter crews have extensive experience of challenging casualty evacuations from operations in the UK and abroad over many years. This training with the emergency services in the Western Isles highlights our commitment to using our expertise to support the NHS in Scotland and around the UK.”



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