Worst of the worst lets service become the best of the best

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From left, pilot Owen McTeggart, paramedic Andy Dalton and doctor Andy Barrington
From left, pilot Owen McTeggart, paramedic Andy Dalton and doctor Andy Barrington

Andy Dalton doesn’t have a job. At least, he doesn’t regard it as one.

He could take his pick of titles: Lifesaver. Hero. Paramedic.

He flies into the scene of tragedy and disaster, treats severely injured and ill people and whisks them off to hospital.

He’s part of the Great North Air Ambulance team that scrambles into the skies of Cumbria to answer some of the county’s most serious emergencies.

Life is very precious and you have to live every day as well as you can

After 10 years spent working as a paramedic for the ambulance service, he applied to join the airborne version.

“It was another career development, something different. I thought it would do just for a couple of years and I’m still here more than 10 years later.”

We chat as he waits for a call-out at the base in Langwathby, near Penrith, alongside doctor Jonathan ‘Dougie’ Howes and pilot Owen McTeggart.

He has seen massive changes in the development of the service since he joined.

The helicopter has improved in ability and size (he no longer has to contort himself to fit in) and the medical skills and procedures that the crews can carry out have progressed just as dramatically. They pioneered the latest advance which allows them to carry plasma which is used to clot serious injuries.

Andy says: “I can’t stress enough how the people in our area get the best medical care there is, nowhere in the country gets better care than we provide.”

He’s been in crews which have helped save the lives of people who have suffered accidents on the fells, on farms, in road crashes or who have suffered heart attacks.

“It is very different to being on a road ambulance,” explains the 47-year-old dad of two.

“On a road ambulance it is job after job, but they are not particularly life-threatening.

“On the helicopter there are not so many missions, but the majority are more serious. I see more major traumas in a month than most road paramedics see in years.

“We tend to go to the worst of the worst jobs, which is challenging, but it is what we are trained to do.

“We have robust training and robust procedure.”

 The Pride of Cumbria

The Pride of Cumbria

Some call outs are more serious, more challenging medically, physically and psychologically than others.

Like the time he was called out following Derrick Bird’s rampage that left 12 dead, or to the Keswick school bus crash that claimed the lives of two pupils.

It can’t be easy to switch off and return to his home in Carlisle, wife Fiona and daughters Imogen, five, and nine-year-old Emma.

“From a personal point of view, it can be difficult,” he admits. “Some of the incidents... I don’t know how I can deal with it. I am just able to.

“I go home and give them a hug. Life is very precious and you have to live every day as well as you can.”

What makes the job extra special to him and other crew members is the relationship and the support the service has with the public.

“One of the brilliant things we do that does not happen with road ambulances is that we get to meet a lot of our patients.

“We get a lot of visitors to our base and it is great to see people who have these horrendous accidents and survive well and get back to life and family. You don’t get that on the road.

“It helps us to know that what we are trying to achieve is right.

“When people come back and tell us the difference we have made, it is incredibly humbling.”

A special tribute was paid by one farmer, who was crushed by a bull, he was so grateful to be saved by Andy that he named his new beast after him.

While the gestures and the thanks are appreciated, without private contributions and fundraising, the medics would literally not get off the ground.

The public has given a staggering £57 million to the charity since its launch in 2002. The weekly 50p lottery run by the service has brought in £13m.

Gifts left by people in their wills, or legacies, have raised a further £11m in that time.

Recently, as much as 40 per cent of the charity’s income has been through legacy giving. Around 8,000 of the 16,000 missions flown to date have been in Cumbria.

Andy counts himself lucky to be able to do his job: “It is a great job. It does not feel like I get up and go to work. It is a passion and one of the few things I’m not bad at.”


For more information on the air ambulance and to make a donation, go to www.greatnorthairambulance.co.uk


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