On average, there are more than 50 major trauma cases every day just in England, that’s almost 20,000 a year.
Major trauma means multiple, serious injuries that could result in death or a serious disability. These include injuries caused by road accidents, falls from height, major burns, stabbings etc. It is the fourth highest cause of death in western countries and the leading cause of death in people aged 44 and under.
Research highlights that the speed with which trauma patients receive specialist treatment has a direct correlation to their chances of survival and/or extent of life-impacting disability. For this reason, casualties with a major trauma are taken to specialist centres, like the one at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.
The Major Trauma Centre
The Northern General Hospital was declared a Major Trauma Centre (MTC) in April 2013. This means that it has all the specialist staff and equipment needed to deliver lifesaving treatment to the most extreme and urgent trauma cases.
It is one of just 22 MTCs across the UK and serves a population of approximately 1.8 people covering all of South Yorkshire plus parts of the Humber, Derbyshire and the East Midlands. In major incidents, it also takes casualties from further afield.
As a designated MTC, scanning and operating facilities are close and consultants from the full range of specialist areas are on hand to operate on patients and provide the full range specialist services, including orthopaedics, neurosurgery and radiology. The MTC operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by a consultant-led team with access to the very best diagnostic and treatment facilities.
The current helipad
The current helipad at the Northern General Hospital is more than 20 years old. It is classed as a secondary helipad because its position, down a hill approximately 250 metres from the MTC, means that casualties need a secondary transfer into a road ambulance before being driven up to the MTC. This not only adds extra time but also risks additional discomfort for the patient and complications from having to move tubes and lines more than once.
The current site is also too small to accommodate the larger RAF Search and Rescue Aircraft, which can be deployed day or night, whilst a standard air ambulance can only fly until dusk. As a result, RAF Aircraft must land in Shirecliffe (on a field and small area of tarmac), about one mile away from the MTC: During rush hour it can take around five minutes to transfer seriously ill patients by road ambulance.
Finally, the current site is in a dip close to trees and is not lit, this means that in some wind and light conditions it can be difficult to land in and some pilots decide that for all the reasons outlined to fly further rather than bring patients to the MTC at Sheffield.
The new helipad
The new primary helipad will be built close to the A&E, just to the left of the ambulance bay, and will mean that patients can receive potentially life-saving treatment from the MTC within about 90 seconds of landing, 24 hours a day It means demolishing part of Sorby House and building a raised helipad platform that will rise above the surrounding land and buildings and provide a landing site that conforms to the strictest aviation safety guidelines.
It will also be lit so that helicopters can land day and night, currently relevant for police and search and rescue helicopters. Most air ambulances can only fly in daylight and in good visibility but advances are being made all the time and this may change.
The undulating nature of the site provides the opportunity to include some much-needed office and car-parking space beneath the new structure. The costs of building this will be funded separately, not as part of the appeal.
The new structure will stand a maximum of 6.6m high. It was important to keep the helipad close to ground level so a full fire crew is not required for any landing or take off, which represents a considerable saving in complexity and expense.
From the top of the helipad, patients will be taken down a long ramp and come out at the bottom of the helipad across the road from the MTC. It is estimated that patients could be inside the MTC less than 2 minutes after landing, a huge improvement on the current arrangements. Saving time really can mean saving lives.