Five years of service for the helipad

King’s College Hospital’s helipad has received more than a thousand patients requiring life-saving care

Helipad - NEW

Launched in October 2016 following a five-year planning project and a £3.5 million ‘Time Is Life’ fundraising appeal, the helipad has transformed trauma care across south-east London and Kent, enabling patients to receive expert and timely treatment. The helipad serves a trauma population of 4.5 million people across the region and has aided the rapid transfer of patients to King’s following road traffic accidents, falls, strokes, heart attacks and other time-critical medical emergencies. On the fifth anniversary of its opening (26/10/21), 1,123 patients had been airlifted to King's.

Built on top of the hospital’s 10-storey Ruskin Wing, the helipad was made possible thanks to a multi-million-pound donation from the County Air Ambulance HELP Appeal – the only charity in the country dedicated to funding the construction of hospital helipads. In addition, more than 2,600 patients, staff, and members of the local community generously donated £500,000 to the hospital’s Time is Life Appeal, led by King’s consultant Mr Rob Bentley and the helipad team.

The helipad has helped speed up the time it takes helicopters to transfer critically ill patients to King’s, and reduce ‘landing-to-resus’ transfer times to just five minutes, a process that used to take up to 25 minutes before the helipad was built. At that time helicopters would land in nearby Ruskin Park and patients were transferred to King’s by road. The vast majority of patient transfers are made by Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex - a charity providing a Helicopter Emergency Service (HEMS) to the south-east of England.

Dr Malcolm Tunnicliff is Clinical Director for Major Trauma at King’s College Hospital and a Consultant with Air Ambulance Kent, Surrey, Sussex He said: “I am incredibly proud that our helipad at King’s has helped 1,000 critically unwell patients, many of whom have gone on to make a full recovery. It’s a testament to the air ambulance crews and staff at King’s, who go above and beyond every single day, to save people’s lives. Here we treat some of the most seriously ill and critically injured patients in the south-east. The helipad has helped speed up the time it takes to transfer patients from scene by helicopter to hospital, giving patients the very best chance of survival.”

In March 2019, King's College Hospital became the first Major Trauma Centre in London to be granted permission for air ambulances to land at night as well as during daylight hours. Until then the helipad had been operational between the hours of 7am and 9pm. Any trauma patients requiring specialist treatment and care outside these hours had to be brought to King's via road ambulance. Night landings have saved up to 90 minutes in transfer time for patients on the Kent coast and ensured patients have the same access to highly specialised, timely treatment regardless of the time of day, which can be the difference between life and death. In total, 181 night landings have taken place, equating to 19% of all flights since March 2019.

Mr Rob Bentley, Clinical Director of the South East London Kent and Medway (SELKaM) Major Trauma Network, National Clinical Director for Major Trauma and Craniofacial and Maxillofacial Surgeon at King’s added: “Trauma care in south-east London and Kent continues to be among the very best in the country, evidenced by our excellent patient outcomes. As well as having a highly skilled and dedicated team across the region, the network has been bolstered by the helipad at King’s being operational 24/7. Patients can be assured that wherever they are in the region, they will have the same access to world-class care regardless of the time of day they need help. In these situations, time is life.”

Twelve hospitals are part of the network including King’s College Hospital, Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH), and St Thomas’. King’s College Hospital is the hub Major Trauma Centre for the SELKaM trauma network, which serves a population of 5.5 million people across south east London and Kent.

Gail Scott-Spicer, Chief Executive of the King’s College Hospital Charity, said: “Whenever I hear the air ambulance fly over it sends a shiver through me. For a patient to be so ill that they need to come to King’s by helicopter, you know that every second counts. That shiver is followed by enormous pride that the helipad was supported by so many people who actively fundraised and made it happen – to save lives that otherwise may not have made it in time. Immense gratitude to the County Air Ambulance Trust and every single person who donated time and money to the HELP Appeal. The King’s helipad is a shining example of the amazing things that charitable funding and a community coming together can achieve.”

Robert Bertram, HELP Appeal Chief Executive, which donated £2.75 million to the initial fundraising appeal, including £500,000 towards the entire cost of the DIFF: “To have over 1000 critically ill patients landing directly at hospital in just under five years, confirms how vital this helipad is to Major Trauma Care across London and the South East. Each of those patients have been someone’s mum, dad, sister, brother, son or daughter, and they’ve all needed lifesaving treatment from an emergency consultant immediately after landing, to have the best possible chance of survival – and the helipad has made this possible every single time. The £2.75 million donation to help build the helipad in 2016 was one of the biggest ever from the HELP Appeal, but we can see it has been worth every single penny. Helipads save time and save lives.”

The helipad at King’s was the first in mainland UK to be equipped with a deck integrated firefighting (DIFF) system. This system automatically sprays foam from a series of nozzles installed into the helideck in the event of a fire, instead of relying on a team of fire fighters to manually extinguish it. Using the automated fire system saves the Trust £300,000 each year compared to employing firefighters, and it guarantees to extinguish a blaze within eight seconds. The system also frees up firefighters to work on the ground. An automatic system is safer for everyone including emergency rescue teams as they can work alongside the spray activation to help with evacuating patients and staff from air ambulances. It has also been shown to put out fires very efficiently and isn’t affected by the wind – a must when the helipad is located on the roof of a high-rise building.

Patients who have benefitted from swift transfers

Paul’s story

Paul Curtis, 50, from Gillingham was flown to King’s after a kayaking accident in Maidstone left him in submerged in near-freezing waters for around five minutes, causing life-threatening hypothermia and his heart to stop beating properly for more than three hours. Once at King’s, Paul was put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – a machine that takes over the work of the lungs and heart - for life-saving ‘blood warming’ treatment.

Paul said, “The care I’ve had pre-hospital and at King’s has been phenomenal. The fact that I’m here today is testament to the skill and dedication of everyone who cared for me.”

Paul’s partner Christine Cordle, a community nurse, said, “It’s a miracle Paul is with us today. If just one link in Paul’s chain of survival – which included his friend who first administered CPR, the paramedics, air ambulance, A&E and critical care unit at King’s – had broken he wouldn’t be with us now.”

Jacqueline’s story

Jacqueline Hanmer, 61, from Gillingham was flown to King’s following a night-time fall at her home in August 2019. Her partner called the ambulance but her head injury was so severe the air ambulance was scrambled to get Jacqueline to King’s without delay. Once at hospital she underwent a X-hour operation to decompress the pressure in her skull, which had developed from swelling and a bleed to her brain.

Jacqueline said, “I would have died or ended up in long-term care if I hadn’t reached King’s as quickly as I did on the night of my accident. Following a lengthy stay in hospital and a brain injury unit I’m now 100% better and life has returned to normal. I’ve even been given the all clear to drive again so I feel on top of the world! But it very nearly wasn’t the case and I’m beyond grateful to everyone who helped with my treatment and recovery.”

Charlie’s story

Charlie was eight-years-old when he was hit by a vehicle on a quiet residential road. Lying in the road, unconscious with blood pouring from his head, it was decided that he should be airlifted to King’s for urgent treatment. His mum, Lauren, said: “All of a sudden, I saw Dr Matt coming towards us. I was still in such a state of shock, that I hadn’t even heard the helicopter land. But in a strange way, Dr Matt’s arrival brought me sharply back to reality. Suddenly I thought ‘that’s the doctor from 24 Hours in A&E’ and in that moment I realised how serious our situation was.”

Charlie’s head injury was severe. His brain was damaged; his pelvis was broken in four places; and his right arm had been skinned from being dragged along the road. Charlie was transferred to King’s within 17 minutes. Lauren added, “In his condition, I’m certain Charlie wouldn’t have survived in a normal ambulance. I saw Matt making a phone call and asked who he was calling. He explained it was a code red call to King’s College Hospital, so that staff would be ready to meet us when we landed. It took five hours to stop my son’s bleeding. He was in a coma by the time we were finally able to see him. I can’t describe how it feels to see your baby boy in that state. Even when he came around, he was completely vacant. The doctors said he wasn’t recognising us, yet I felt sure his eyes followed me around his room. They also said he was likely to be paralysed down his right side. We had no idea if he would become responsive. He was like a baby again. He couldn’t do anything for himself and had to be fed through a tube. We are so lucky and grateful that he is still here with us. Over the next few months Charlie underwent intensive physio and language therapy, re-learning colours and numbers. He still has scars from his injuries, many of which he’ll have for life. His brain hasn’t fully recovered, so he has problems with his memory and lives with this hidden disability. Yet, without KSS and the team at King’s College Hospital, he wouldn’t be here at all.” A year on from his accident, Charlie was doing well and was back at school.