Members of the Armed Forces have conducted joint familiarisation training for potential medical evacuations with NHS emergency care workers to help with the fight against coronavirus.
A Royal Air Force Puma and Chinook and a Royal Navy Merlin helicopter, which are all on standby as part of the Aviation Task Force, landed at Thruxton Airfield in Hampshire.
"This is a perfect example of the military’s role in supporting the NHS and our emergency services," said General Tyrone Urch, Commander Standing Joint Command.
"The pilots and crews from across the Aviation Task Force have years of experience of challenging casualty evacuations from operations in the UK and abroad.
"The training in Thruxton brings these skills to the service of the NHS and continues to build the partnership with our frontline clinical staff that is vital to our battle against the coronavirus."
The mutual training with NHS critical care staff meant both teams could understand each other's processes and procedures to interact efficiently during potential medical evacuations.
"The Merlin Force has previous experience of working with patients with communicable diseases from our time supporting Op Gritrock in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis," Commander Chris Knowles, Commanding Officer of 820 Naval Air Squadron, said.
"This is different to what we’re supporting now though and it’s important we familiarise ourselves with NHS ways of working before we are needed.
"We are a very close community in Culdrose and many of our partners are also NHS staff so it’s great to be able to support them and the wider NHS at this unprecedented time."
Small teams of critical care staff rehearsed potential evacuation techniques with each aircraft type.
"This level of support from the Armed Forces is really beneficial to patients in places such as the Channel Islands and Isle of Wight as the current Public Health England guidelines preclude us from carrying a patient with coronavirus," HEMS Care Group Manager at the University Hospital Southampton, Justin Sanders said.
"For us, this training has mainly been about our teams learning how to get themselves and the patient in the aircraft; once we’re in, well that’s our bread and butter in looking after the patient," he added.
Experienced Armed Forces personnel explained safety procedures medical staff would need to follow when operating near and on the aircraft, as well as other technical aspects of security of the patients, equipment and onboard staff.
"The Puma Force has vast experience of conducting medical evacuations in overseas operational theatres, working alongside military medical staff such as those from Tactical Medical Wing, but it’s slightly different to work with the NHS," Squadron Leader Paul Blundell, a Puma pilot with 230 Squadron at RAF Benson, explained.
"They have different equipment and different processes in place so it’s really important that we have rehearsed these on a military aircraft in advance of one being called to support their life-saving efforts."
Cover image: MOD.