Local air ambulance crew making a difference in Ukraine

A group of volunteers from the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity’s (GWAAC) Critical Care Team have recently returned from a different kind of mission — in Ukraine.

On Sunday 26 June 2022, GWAAC’s Critical Care Doctors, James Tooley, Ed Valentine and Andrew Heavyside, along with SPCC’s Pete Reeve, Callum Sutton and Matt Robinson set off on a 25-hour journey to Kyiv.

The volunteers went to Kyiv with the intention of teaching a tactical medicine course to prepare civilians to respond to trauma incidents as and when needed during the conflict. They delivered training over two days and returned to the UK on 1 July 2022.

On arrival in Kyiv, the group responded to local needs and demands and taught around 60 people selected for the course. These were mostly office workers such as diplomats and ambassadors at an increased risk of a missile strike on their place of work. Some also travel between towns and cities as part of their role and are at an increased risk of landmines and ambush.

The training was delivered through translators which slowed the pace a little but SPCC, Pete Reeve said “it was pretty straightforward.”

The training covered themes such as how to stop bleeding, using a tourniquet, giving CPR and the triage process. Pete says, “triage is important. If their building is hit by a missile, they need to be able to identify which injuries are most severe, so they know who to treat first.”

As well as providing training in lifesaving tactical medicine, the volunteers also left supplies of tourniquets, dressings, and bandages for the trainees. Specialist paediatric equipment was gifted to an intensive care unit in Kyiv and two fully equipped response bags, dressings and iGels were given to frontline hospitals, taken by the security firm that looked after the volunteers while in Ukraine.

How and why the trip came about

A combination of influencing factors came together at the right time. Namely, the willingness of the crew, additional funding from a private source, and the contacts and logistical knowledge acquired by Dr James and Dr Ed on a previous visit to Ukraine where they tried to help some very sick children.

The group went as volunteers with the full support of GWAAC.

GWAAC is known for being one of the best Pre-hospital Emergency Medicine (PHEM) training centres in the country. Teaching other medical professionals how to deal with the most serious of trauma injuries is one of its skillsets. The group of volunteers provided gold standard medical training to people in Ukraine who otherwise wouldn’t have received it.

An important aspect of the mission was security. The trip was only ever going to be possible with some form of protection for the group of volunteers. This came from a private security firm and a High-Risk Advisor called Joel Bennet who is an experienced medic specialising in austere environments. Joel stayed with the group throughout the trip, keeping them updated on the developments in the conflict in Ukraine.

The impact of the trip

The intention of the trip was to have as big an impact as possible within a relatively short space of time. The volunteers achieved this in three ways:

  • They provided the best possible medical training to a group of people who would really benefit. In this case, government employees with little medical experience and more likely to be in a targeted building, e.g. a Foreign Office, than the general population. The training would give them the know-how and confidence to administer lifesaving first aid
  • They gave the trainees the skills, confidence and equipment to pass down to others in their community; to help make them self-sufficient
  • They equipped the trainees with lifesaving equipment such as tourniquets and dressings. And they donated medical supplies to hospitals

SPCC, Pete said:60 people received high-quality medical training they otherwise wouldn’t have got. One attendee came both days and told us how overnight she had been teaching her family what she had learned during the day. It’s a very sobering thought; that for them, the missiles, the bombing, the loss of loved ones… is a very real threat. We encouraged them to pass on their new skills to as many people as possible. We gave them the knowledge, the confidence and the medical supplies to deal with things. And they were just so very grateful.”

 GWAAC, proud of the volunteers

Great Western Air Ambulance Charity’s Critical Care Team is a select group of highly skilled individuals who can make a huge difference to people in urgent need of lifesaving pre-hospital care.

GWAAC Critical Care Doctors and Specialist Paramedics in Critical Care (SPCC) are professionals in every sense of the word, and it’s in their nature to want to help people whenever and wherever they can.

“I’m very proud of the group of volunteers who helped in Ukraine. They were willing to travel to a country in conflict to use their skills to help people in need. We are very lucky to have such passionate, selfless and caring individuals in the Critical Care Team and serving their local communities.”

Anna Perry, CEO, Great Western Air Ambulance Charity.