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Helicopter transfer

Embrace ambulance logoWelcome to Embrace, the Yorkshire and Humber Infant and Children’s Transport Service. We are a team of specialists in moving babies by air ambulance, and have been asked by the team looking after your baby to help move them to another hospital. This resource will tell you more about why we are doing this and what will happen.

The transport of your child can be an extremely anxious and stressful time. You may feel scared and think that you do not have control of what is happening. These feelings are normal. We aim to provide care and support for you and your child and we are happy to answer any questions you may have.

Embrace transfers the majority of children referred to us using specialist road ambulances. However in some cases, due to speed or distance, a specialist helicopter may be needed.

Who are we?

Embrace is a service hosted by Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. We are a team of highly skilled intensive care staff trained to safely care for your child during their transfer.

Embrace employs a combination of medical staff, nurse practitioners, transport nurses and other allied health professionals. Each child is assessed by a transport consultant and the most appropriate team is dispatched based on the needs of your child.

What aircraft will my child be flying in?

Embrace work with a reputable air provider called The Children’s Air Ambulance (TCAA). We have worked with TCAA for ten years and they are registered and assessed by the CQC (Care Quality Commission). The aircraft used are usually of a type called ‘Augusta Westland 169’, which are modern, reliable twin-engined aircraft which are well suited to medium distance patient transfer. The availability of a dedicated children’s air ambulance with specialised equipment appropriate to the needs of your child enables Embrace to provide a safe flight transfer service for children in the UK.

Occasionally another aircraft might be used such as a helicopter from the coastguard.

Photograph of staff wearing blue jumpers stood in front of a green helicopter, smiling

Can I travel with my child?

There is usually space in the aircraft for one parent to travel with your child, although occasionally this is not possible. If you wish to accompany your child, the transport team will make contact in advance and ask you some questions about your current health and experience of flying prior to you meeting them (these are called ‘Fit to Fly’ questions). This is also the time to raise any other questions about the transfer you may have. If your child is old enough we are also happy to discuss the transfer directly with them.

You may not be permitted to travel with your child if you are pregnant, unwell or have just had a baby (less than 24 hours after a normal delivery, or 72 hours after a caesarean section). Not all parents wish to travel and that is okay too. This may be a good chance to make arrangements for your other children, or to pick up any belongings you may need from home. If you do not have access to private transport, your current hospital can help you make arrangements.

Handover

The team currently caring for your child will update us on your child’s condition and any treatment they have already had. We will then assess your child and perform any further treatment or procedures needed so your child can be transferred.

Getting ready for transfer

Once the transport team arrives, the process of preparing your child for transfer usually takes between one and two hours, depending on how sick they are. Do not be alarmed if the process is longer or shorter than this. We will update you on your child’s treatment and progress. It is important that you do not leave the hospital until your child is ready to be transferred. The team will complete this process in time to meet the helicopter.

At the landing site

Some hospitals have landing areas for helicopters on the roof, or in the hospital grounds. Other hospitals have designated nearby landing sites in a park or school playing field. Occasionally an airport is the most appropriate option. A road ambulance may be required at either end of the journey for transfer to and from the landing site.

Some of the landing sites that are not at a hospital or airport can have spectators who pause to watch the helicopter land and take off. We will strive to maintain your family’s privacy and dignity throughout this process.

If we are using an airport, the ambulance will use a special entrance and will drive right up to the waiting aircraft.

What happens at the new hospital?

When we get to the hospital, we will handover to the local team your child’s medical history, treatment and their current condition and then they will be transferred to their bed or incubator to continue their treatment.

Each hospital ward has slightly different facilities and policies such as visiting, parking and accommodation. The local staff will be happy to discuss these with you when you arrive, or we can get answers in advance to any questions you may have.

Your comfort and safety

  • If it is possible for you to travel in the helicopter, it is important that you bring only minimal luggage as space is limited. The transport team will discuss this with you in advance.
  • We will ask you your weight. This is important as the fuel the helicopter carries is calculated very carefully and is adjusted based on the total weight of everything onboard. The referring hospital can weigh you if you are unsure.
  • It is very important you follow all safety instructions given to you by the transport team and the pilots.
  • Remain seated and keep your seatbelt fastened at all times.
  • There is no toilet on the helicopter. The transport team will remind you to go before leaving the hospital.
  • Batteries (such as mobile phone power banks) or e-cigarettes should not be packed in luggage but carried on your person and declared to the transport team who will make the pilots aware for safety reasons.
  • There is enough room for the team to care for your child in the aircraft, but to those who are not used to it, the inside of the helicopter can feel cramped.
  • If travelling with us, you will be sitting really close to your child. You will be able to see and touch them. Older, awake children will have a headset so you can talk to them.
  • Please bring a coat, even in the summer as landing sites can be windy places.
  • Please wear closed-toe footwear if possible.
  • If landing at an airport, you may require photo ID, either a passport or driving licence. Please make the transport team aware in advance if you do not have these documents available.
  • If travelling with us, you will be asked to wear a helmet. This includes ear protection (for the noise) and a microphone so you can talk to the transport team. There is also a lot to bump your head on in the helicopter so wearing a helmet stops us worrying about that.

Risks

Transferring your child is not without risk, but the transport will only go ahead if the balance of risks and benefits is in favour of moving, and with your consent. The risks, and how we manage these, will be explained to you in advance, and again on the journey. Risks include how altitude and oxygen changes might affect your child’s breathing, and how the noise and vibration of the journey might impact their comfort. We do everything we can to reduce risk, which might include giving extra oxygen, or increasing the amount of breathing support that is offered. Sicker children might have their medication adjusted to help them tolerate the journey.

The team has your child’s safety and comfort in mind as they evaluate the medical information in order to decide on the timing of the transport, and the most appropriate team and equipment to send. No matter what level of medical support your child is receiving, the team is equipped and prepared for emergency situations, including a worsening of their clinical condition. The care that will be given during the journey, and any preparations that need to be made for unexpected situations, will be explained to you. We encourage you to ask all the questions you need to in order to feel reassured.

Timings

If your child’s transfer is not an emergency, there may be a few days wait before the transfer. This may be because we are waiting for a bed to be available at the new hospital, we may be waiting for medical staff to be available to undertake the transport, and finally the aircraft needs to be available. It may also be the case that your child is not quite ready to be transferred from a medical perspective. We are aware that this waiting can be frustrating and we will try and help you understand the reason for them.

These transfers are very carefully planned, and we aim to stick to a time schedule which is agreed in advance. There can however be delays on the day, which may be due to landing site opening hours, weather conditions, and other factors. Sometimes a journey is planned for a helicopter, but we end up going by road or in an aeroplane due to factors which arise on the day. In all cases, we will keep you informed about any changes to the plan.

Feedback

Your comments about any aspect of the Embrace service are important to us. Please use the parent and carer feedback form to send us your thoughts.

Complaints and advice are dealt with by the patient advice and liaison service (PALS) available in all hospital trusts. Please contact the Sheffield PALS service on 0114 271 7594 if it concerns the service provided by Embrace.

Accreditation

Every year Embrace undertakes multiple  helicopter and aeroplane transfers of children within the UK and abroad. This is in partnership with our aeromedical partners. Our years of experience have resulted in full accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems – Global which is a European based organisation dedicated to improving the quality of care and safety of the transport environment. More information can be found on our CAMTS accreditation page.

The Children’s Air Ambulance

Most of Embrace’s helicopter flights are made possible by a charity called The Children’s Air Ambulance. If your child is flying with The Children’s Air Ambulance we will give you the opportunity to find out more about the work they do.


The Embrace Team is here to offer you help, support, advice and information. Please do not hesitate to speak to us about any aspect of your child’s care and transfer.

You can find out more information about Embrace on our website.

Quotes from flying families

“We knew immediately that Harriet was in safe hands. Everyone was fantastic and incredibly supportive during such a distressing period of our lives. The pilots and Embrace team working together were so efficient and professional. They made it OK for us to give our four-day-old daughter to people we didn’t know. We instantly trusted them and couldn’t fault anything they did for our baby girl.” – Malika, Harriet’s mum.

“Although I was nervous about flying and hadn’t been in the sky before, I was made to feel very safe, and I knew we were both in the best hands possible getting where we needed to be as quickly and as safely as possible.”- Cara, Elodie’s mum.

“Thanks to the great joint effort of the Children’s Air Ambulance and Embrace team we were able to see Amelia leave in the helicopter and Bronwen arrive in it. Throughout the whole process, everyone was really reassuring and even though we weren’t with the girls we were kept up to date with what was happening to them. It is incredible what the Children’s Air Ambulance did for us that day. We never doubted the safety of the twins and knew they were in the hands of professionals who we immediately trusted.” – Katy, Bronwen and Amelia’s mum.

“I couldn’t believe all the equipment that was on the helicopter to treat Indigo and monitor her condition while we were flying. It was amazing. Most people have no idea that such intensive care takes place up in the sky.” – Leighanne, Indigo’s mum.

“I felt that Scarlet was in the best hands possible and was being taken to where she would get the best treatment possible. The helicopter was kitted out with all the latest high-tech equipment and knowing she was receiving the same intensive care treatment in the helicopter as at the PICU, was a great comfort. This meant she was getting intensive care in the air.” – Charlotte, Scarlet’s mum.

“Knowing our baby was in safe hands and was being taken to the local hospital the quickest way possible was a great comfort. Everyone was so professional and explained exactly what was happening, they put our minds at rest. It took six and a half hours for us to get home. Because of the Children’s Air Ambulance Arthur didn’t have to endure a long road journey. Travelling by helicopter made a huge difference for him. It’s an amazing service and we are so very lucky it was available for us.” – Emma, Arthur’s mum.

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Disclaimer

Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: EMB4

Resource Type: Article

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