Pioneering 'whole blood transfusions' to be trialled by Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance

WATCH: ITV News Meridian’s Kit Bradshaw reports on the innovations in air ambulance care

Air ambulance doctors are to trial the use of a new type of blood transfusion, based on lessons learned to treat catastrophic injuries in war zones.

The procedure will use whole blood products as opposed to the existing technique of administering separated supplies of red blood cells and plasma.

The ‘exciting development’ means the service should no longer be seen as ‘just a flying ambulance’ but more akin to a ‘flying intensive care unit’, according to deputy medical director Prof Richard Lyon.

Prof Lyon, of Air Ambulance Charity Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS), told ITV News Meridian: “We’re looking to see whether the transfusion of whole blood or components is better.

“We know from military experience, particularly in recent conflicts, that whole blood products might improve survival for patients who are severely injured and are literally bleeding to death.

“If that’s true, it could change practice not just in the UK but around the world.”

The service has a fleet of specialist helicopters based at Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey.

The national trial, known as SWIFT, is being led by NHS Blood and Transplant. It is due to start being used in response to real emergencies by KSS Air Ambulance crews later this month.

Such innovations will drive up costs for the charity which runs the life-saving service, according to the chief executive.

David Welch said: “To develop new technologies costs more money… in what is a challenging environment. But our duty is to do the best we can for the communities that we serve.

“We want to reach more patients, we want to save more lives. We rely on the support that we get from the general public, we can’t save more lives without that support.”

  • WATCH: Prof Richard Lyon, KSS deputy medical director

KSS figures show that 2022 was the busiest year in the service’s 33-year history. Over the year its crews responded to 3,224 incidents, 64% by helicopters and 36% by road rapid response vehicles.

Road traffic collisions accounted for the highest number of missions, followed by medical emergencies and accidental injuries.

The service operates 24 hours a day from its operational base at Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey, with the charity headquarters at Rochester Airport, in Kent.