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NEST set to help save more lives with England’s first helicopter incubator

Last updated: 12/01/2023

The pioneering Children’s Air Ambulance (TCAA) has introduced England’s first incubator on a rotary-wing aircraft to assist specialist NHS transport teams during lifesaving flights. 

The national transfer service provides the only intensive care aircraft in the country dedicated to transferring critically ill babies and children, at a high and safe speed, from local hospitals to specialist paediatric and neonatal treatment centres. 

Thanks to the support of public donations, the charity has designed and developed three bespoke Neonatal Transport Systems which have been provided to specialist NHS transport teams free of charge across England to enhance patient care.  

The charity, NHS Clinical Partner Teams at Bristol's Newborn Emergency Stabilisation and Transfer (NEST), Embrace Yorkshire and Humberside Infant and Children Transport Service (Embrace), and Southampton Oxford Neonatal Transport (SONeT) International Biomedical and Gama Aviation collaborated on a bespoke design, bringing three Neonatal Transport Systems onboard its brand new AgustaWestland 169 aircraft - now provided by Sloane Helicopters Ltd. 

Lead Nurse for NEST, Patrick Turton, said:

“Having the support and commitment from TCAA alongside the backing of University Hospital Bristol and Weston, and of course, other Charity Partners who are supporting the purchase of equipment to go on the incubator system has been a great example of different teams working together - without these key players involved, the project wouldn't get off the ground.”

An incubator is an apparatus used to maintain environmental conditions suitable for a newborn baby and is used in preterm birth or for some ill full-term babies. The ability to maintain the temperature, humidity and oxygen levels provides a safe environment for the young patient. 

The new and bespoke TCAA Neonatal Transport Systems has been designed with input from NEST to ensure they are able to provide outstanding care in the air. In addition to the incubator, the system includes a Patient Monitor, Ventilator, Suction Unit, four Infusion Devices, Oxygen, and specialist Nitric Therapy. 

Patrick added:

“It's been fascinating seeing the development of this key piece of equipment, and working so closely with the designers, project team and other clinical teams as felt like such a collaborative project bringing everyone's experience and expertise together. What an achievement and such a lot of hard work.”

The Neonatal Transport Systems are a vital piece of equipment and really come into their own when paired with the Children’s Air Ambulance’s new AW169 aircraft. The large cabin interior allows access to both sides of the Neonatal Transport System, and with excellent visibility from all four seats, it means more specialists’ eyes can monitor the patient – as well as the parent.

This space means that a parent doesn’t have to move if a clinician needs access to care for their child, meaning they can remain close to their child the entire flight, putting their mind at ease.  

These new state-of-the-art Neonatal Transport Systems integrate seamlessly with the charity’s stretcher system, making the aircraft second to none in the provision of neonatal transfers alongside NEST. 

Patrick continued:

“Having the incubators will mean we can fly so many more babies than we currently are able to. Previously, we couldn’t safely use the helicopter to transfer our smaller infants, who need higher levels of support. This incubator means we will be able to get the smaller more fragile babies to the specialist services they need more quickly, reducing the anxiety and worry of the parents, and ultimately reducing the time taken for the infants to get the specialist support they need. 

“We're really looking forward to continuing to work closely with TCAA to be able to provide this level of transport to support more babies and their families.” 

The Children’s Air Ambulance charity is continually looking at ways in which it can increase support to the NHS and the clinical teams it works alongside, and by bringing these new incubators on board, the service is really leading the way in paediatric and neonatal aeromedical transfers. 

Alfie Daly, Head of Operations for the Children’s Air Ambulance said:

“I am delighted that we have now introduced our bespoke Neonatal Transport Systems so we can transfer neonatal patients and support the great team at NEST to provide the best possible care. A tremendous amount of work has gone into this project which is fundamentally based on NHS clinicians’ requirements to ensure they have everything they need to provide the best possible patient care. It’s a huge achievement for the Children’s Air Ambulance and a lifesaving piece of equipment."