Many Islanders probably spotted a Chinook helicopter flying over Newport this lunchtime. It was all part of a rehearsal for the Royal Air Force to be able to support of the IoW NHS Trust during the COVID-19 emergency, if required.
The RAF undertook a short exercise, landing the CH47 Chinook helicopter at Seaclose Park to test and evaluate longstanding helicopter landing site procedures, should they be needed. The site would be used to transfer patients as a part of the contribution being made by the military in support of the IoW NHS Trust during the emergency.
A local coastguard team secured and marked the landing site, and the aircraft landed and was on the ground for a short time while the patient transfer process was tested. No actual patients were involved in the exercise. The returned to the mainland after the exercise had been carried out.
It was part of the long-standing arrangements using Seaclose for patient transfer. Seaclose was for many years the main helicopter landing site for St Mary’s, until a dedicated helipad was built at the hospital site.
The park was not closed for the procedure, but the exercise was not publicised beforehand to try to avoid attracting members of the public to Seaclose.
Maggie Oldham, Chief Executive of the Isle of Wight NHS Trust said: “Seaclose has for a long time been a part of our plans for patient transfer, and the Ambulance Service is trained and experienced in working alongside helicopter crews.
“We wanted to take the opportunity to test these processes in the light of the current pandemic, although of course, I hope we will not be called upon to use them.
“With our current close working with military colleagues this exercise has been a useful and reassuring indication that the procedures we have in place are effective and safe, even when working with the Chinook, which is a much bigger aircraft than we normally use.”
Alison Smith, managing director of NHS Isle of Wight Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Now more than ever I am feeling proud to work for the NHS, and immensely proud of my colleagues.
“In these exceptional times we have all had to change the way we work and carry out our day-to-day duties. And these exceptional times have been matched with extraordinary kindness and generosity from our island community.
“The CCG, the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, Isle of Wight Council, and other island organisations continue to work together to deliver safe services and build up plans to manage any increase in demands.
“This includes both building extra capacity in the hospital and the community, and also transferring patients. Today’s exercise with the military was important to help us to be as prepared as we can be. We tested our ability to take patients safely and swiftly over to the mainland should we need to.
“Remember the NHS is still here for you for any other ailments or injuries you face. Please visit 111.nhs.uk, call your GP practice or call NHS 111, in the first instance to get advice. For a life threatening emergency such as severe loss of blood, consciousness, a heart attack or stroke, then please call 999.”