New way to transport patients across the Solent at any time

Working with the ambulance service at Isle of Wight NHS Trust, Hovertravel is now able to carry stretchers to both Southsea and Southampton so patients can receive medical care at hospitals on the mainland and so expands the range of options available to the ambulance service.

Neil Chapman, managing director of Hovertravel, explains: “Our priority is our Essential LifeLine Timetable for key workers and crucial items of freight as these are critical for the communities on both sides of the Solent during the current crisis.

Helping the healthcare professionals on the island sparked an idea that Hovertravel could do more to help by transferring patients across the Solent and so thanks to ingenuity of our engineers in Ryde and the design expertise of our sister company, Griffon in Southampton, we can now deliver patients to Southsea in under ten minutes and to Southampton in under 40 minutes. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Marine & Coastguard Authority which pulled out all the stops to get this modification authorised as quickly as possible.”

Once the call is received from the ambulance service, the pilot and crew (all volunteers for out-of-hours flights) will prepare the hovercraft, which will only carry the patient and necessary NHS staff. The ambulance will be driven on to the pad at Ryde and the stretcher can be wheeled up the ramp into the craft.

Maggie Oldham, Chief Executive at Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said:

“The challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic are huge, but the response of our local community and our Island partners has been fantastic.

“This Island Rescue service is great news for our patients and helps the NHS to keep working to protect our local community.

“It will cut down journey times, helping to make sure that the most unwell patients can get to hospital as quickly as possible and it will free up members of our ambulance service by reducing the number of staff and vehicles needed to transfer patients to the mainland.”

“Alongside the Essential LifeLine Timetable, the Island Rescue Service is a significant boost to the local NHS.”

The luggage and freight area at the front of the hovercraft will be used to transport the patient and the stretcher, plus any additional equipment, which are secured by straps to a series of newly installed locking points.

Adrian Went, Managing Director of Griffon Hoverwork Ltd said: “Griffon’s world-leading team of design engineers developed the modification from the joint requirements of Hovertravel and the Isle of Wight Ambulance Service to include the loading and securing arrangements. These, with the underlying aluminium structure, were analysed to check that they are safe to transport the ambulance’s stretcher trolleys, patients and attending ambulance crew. All the arrangements are fully compliant with the rigorous requirements of the International Maritime Organisation’s High Speed Craft Code. The whole system was demonstrated in practical trials on 4th April and subsequently approved by both the UK’s National Health Service and the local hovercraft safety experts at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in an exceptionally short time.”

The hovercraft will land at either Southsea or at a temporary pad on the Itchen River and the patient will transferred from the craft into a waiting ambulance and on to hospital. There have been several trials of the service, including a flight to the temporary pad at Southampton last Saturday, all conducted under the scrutiny of both Hovertravel’s Head of Marine Operations, Steve Attrill and the ambulance service.

Bob Seely, MP adds: “This innovative use of the hovercraft to support the Island’s ambulance service shows the need for fast and reliable transport links for our community. I welcome the partnership between Hovertravel and the NHS. This will save hours taking patients to the mainland and lighten the load on our ambulance service. Now more than ever, we need to deploy our medical resources as efficiently as possible. We’ll get through this crisis by working together and I support Hovertravel’s Island Rescue initiative.”