Families praise life-saving Children's Air Ambulance as it struggles for funding

Report by Eli-Louise Wringe

The Children's Air Ambulance service says the last 12 months have been the toughest in the charity's history. The pandemic has seen donations fall by more than £2 million, yet the service is more in demand than ever before.

It is used to transport critically ill children and babies to specialist centres like the Bristol Children's Hospital. For those in more rural areas of the West Country, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Two families have told ITV News how incredibly grateful they are that the Children's Air Ambulance exists.

Evie's dad says she might not be here today if it wasn't for the Children's Air Ambulance. Credit: ITV West Country

Four-year-old Elsie Inch from Bude fell desperately ill when she was just four weeks old. She was being checked over at North Devon District Hospital when her condition suddenly deteriorated.

Her mum, Becky Inch, said, "It was just awful. I was in hospital and they took her away to do some checks because I had sepsis so they thought that it could be passed on and she had purple hands and feet.

"She just didn't get brought back and people were coming down and telling me that there were things wrong and it all just seems a bit of a blur to be honest."

Elsie had a serious heart condition but the specialist medical team who could save her were 100 miles away in Bristol.

Doctors said that she wouldn't survive the journey by road and so the Children's Air Ambulance was called in to fly doctors to her and then bring her to Bristol for surgery.

Elsie's dad, Damian Inch, continued, "It was getting dark. They were umming and ahhing about whether to take off and the pilot just said 'I'm going. It's now or never.'

"It took 25 minutes to get to Bristol. Without the watch team and the Children's Air Ambulance, we might not be sat here today."

As well as providing a vital service for those who are critically ill, the charity is also used to bring children home from hospital and reunite families. 

Little Caiden Bell was premature and had to be cared for miles away - the Children's Air Ambulance brought him home. Credit: ITV West Country

Caiden Bell from Monkton Heathfield near Taunton was born prematurely and had to be treated 75 miles away at Plymouth's Derriford Hospital.

For his family, being so far away from their support network, was incredibly hard.

Caiden's mum Emily Milton said, "It was tough because we didn't have that support - physical support - that we needed."

Tiny Caiden safe and sound on board the Children's Air Ambulance. Credit: Emily Milton

When Caiden had stabilised, the Children's Air Ambulance took him to a hospital closer to home. 

Emily said, "We didn't know about the Children's Air Ambulance until it arrived to pick him up basically. We just couldn't believe that he was coming back to Taunton in a helicopter.

"We are so grateful - just because they did such an amazing thing for us. To bring us back home."

At Children's Air Ambulance headquarters, the pilots can plan a mission and be ready to help children like Elsie and Caiden in a matter of minutes.

Pilot Andy Shanks says the helicopter is much bigger inside, making it easier to treat the young patients. Credit: ITV West Country

The aircraft have been fitted with the latest in life-saving equipment - meaning they are now a mini intensive care unit in the sky.

But advances in technology cost money. Each mission costs around £3,500 and the team relies on charitable donations, which have dropped radically since the pandemic hit.

Jo Payne from the Children's Air Ambulance said, "We've probably lost about £2.5 million in community fundraising because events haven't been able to happen. It's been very challenging for us.

"Individuals have obviously had to look really hard at where they give their charity money and hopefully people will continue to support us. Our shops have had to close during the periods of lockdown but we have to continue to fundraise.

"It's a vital service and we need the community support." 

Despite a difficult 12 months, the charity says it plans to increase the number of missions it carries out - hopefully saving more children like Elsie and bringing children like Caiden back where they belong.  

  • Find out more about the work of the Children's Air Ambulance here.

The Children's Air Ambulance needs support if it is to continue to help families like Caiden's and Evie's. Credit: ITV West Country

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