This week we caught up with one of the longest serving members of our HEMS crew, Gary Wareham, who joined the Trust in 1996. He splits his time between working as one of the organisation's Operational Managers whilst also flying regular shifts as a HEMS Paramedic. Read his reflections on how the service has developed, as well as his thoughts on the future.
Can you briefly describe how you came to be a Paramedic with the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance?
I originally served in the RAF for a number of years before joining the ambulance service in North Yorkshire, where I completed my paramedic training. In 1994, I moved down to Kent and started working for the ambulance service at the station in Southborough. A couple of years later in 1996, I saw an advert for the Kent Air Ambulance - I applied and was selected. Initially, I joined the organisation on a part time basis, splitting my time between the ground ambulance and 3 week spells on board the helicopter.
Kent was one of the first counties in the UK to benefit from an air ambulance service so it was an exciting time to be involved. Initially my term with the Kent Air Ambulance was for 18 months on a part-time basis but this turned into 6 years!
How has your role at the KSS Air Ambulance developed since you started?
When I returned to the organisation in 2009 after 6 years away, it was really starting to develop by this point. In those early days we only flew 8 hours a day, 5 hours a week. We became a 7 day service working 12 hours a day so I was a part of this period of gradual development and expansion. I took the position of Operational Manager whilst also working regular shifts as a HEMS Paramedic.
Generally speaking, my role has developed from that of a specialist ‘ambulance man’ to more of a managerial position, but really we have to be a jack of all trades. I work full time at the Marden base with my responsibilities as an Operational Manager, but like today, I am on shift as a member of the HEMS crew. It is hugely important that we all keep up to date with every aspect of our field so that includes going out on operational shifts as well.
What are the day-to-day duties of an Operational Manager within an air ambulance service?
In my capacity of Operational Manager, I work in a group of 4 other managers who focus on the day-to-day running of the organisation. Within that we all have separate responsibilities; my particular role is looking after ‘stuff’ as opposed to people. It involves things like making sure the equipment is kept in a safe condition and is serviced when it needs to be, making sure there is a good supply of all the consumables, looking after all the drugs properly, making sure that we are safe as far as infection control is concerned and all sorts of other duties.
How has the service in general developed since you worked your first shift as a HEMS Paramedic?
The service has evolved and improved almost beyond recognition; going from operating 8 hours a day 5 days a week, to being operational 36 hours a day 7 days a week. The old strapline was ‘saving time, saving lives’ - it was all about the aircraft and the speed we could get a patient to hospital. It is now a lot more focused on the expertise of the crew on board. Flying with a doctor on board means that the treatment we give when we get to the patient is massively enhanced.
One of the great things about working here is that there is always a massive amount of innovation, we are constantly looking to improve patient care. A good example of this is introduction of carrying both blood and plasma on board the aircraft in the spring of 2013.
Do any particular moments stand out as a ‘highlight of your time here?
The introduction of blood on board has to be something I feel immensely proud of. It has been very important not just for us, but the model that I was instrumental in devising, is now being used across the UK.
A lot of the other air ambulance services in this country have the same logistical issues, so they are able to benefit from shared research and development. I can certainly look back on that with a degree of pride having pioneered something that makes a tangible difference to patients in our area but also throughout the country. In the last year for example, we administered blood products to 138 patients.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of working for an air ambulance service?
I suppose the most challenging aspect is the fact that the organisation is constantly looking to innovate, as I mentioned earlier. Things are constantly changing so you have to be very adaptable within your role and understand that as one project comes to an end there will always be something else to work on. It is very much a non-stop organisation, and rightly so, because that’s how it needs to be in order to constantly provide the best possible care for our patients.
Looking to the future, is there anything you are particularly excited about with regard to the further development of the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance service?
I think the whole crew are looking forward to both a new aircraft coming into service, and moving to a new operational base in Hangar 10 at Redhill Aerodrome. It will be great to move into a bespoke building as well as seeing how the new, modern aircraft functions and how we can develop our use of it over time.
It is going to be the first of its kind in the country to be used for HEMS, so I’m sure the other air ambulance services will be interested to see how we, and our patients benefit. A good example of this is the set of response bags that have been designed for the new aircraft. In the high pressure and time sensitive situations we work in, it’s often those small, incremental factors that can make a huge difference in the long term.
Another real pleasure for me and something that I always look forward to is meeting patients and speaking to people that have been directly affected by the air ambulance. We have to treat the air base as our workplace but it’s only when people who have raised money visit, that we are reminded just how special the service is to the community.