Medic and pilot reunite as GNAAS celebrates 21st birthday

A reunion between a medic and pilot 13 years after they first flew together for the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) has left them feeling nostalgic as the charity celebrates its 21st birthday.

GNAAS, which covers the North East, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man, has been registered as a charity since 13 May 2002 and provides life-saving care to people across the region.

Andy Mawson began his career at GNAAS in 2010 as a paramedic and is now the director of operations, responsible for delivering the clinical operation and is also the registered manager for the Care Quality Commission who recently rated GNAAS as ‘outstanding’ overall.

Despite a change in job role, Mr Mawson still occasionally does shifts on the aircraft, and recently worked alongside pilot JJ Smith, who he first flew with 13 years ago.

Mr Smith was chief pilot at GNAAS for six years before jetting off to pastures new, but he’s since re-joined the charity last year.

Mr Mawson said: “I did my first shift with JJ since he returned to GNAAS and it brought back memories from when we used to fly together years ago.

“The charity and the care we provide has developed so much in that time and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. We want to be there for anyone that needs the advanced critical care we can provide, and make our communities proud of our service.”

In 21 years, the charity has achieved several milestones including introducing doctors on board their aircraft and rapid response vehicles, running successful pre-hospital training courses for clinicians from around the world, delivering blood transfusions to more than 500 patients and being awarded a rating of ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission in 2022.

They also began operating seven nights a week in the North East in January this year and hope to offer the same level of service in Cumbria in the near future, which currently operates four nights a week.

Outside of the UK, GNAAS have been working alongside Manx Care based in the Isle of Man to trial a new service to transfer seriously injured or unwell patients by helicopter from the Isle of Man directly to the UK for emergency medical treatment.

Previously, patients were transferred by fixed wing air ambulance but there was no access to a pre-hospital Helicopter Emergency Medical Service which are able to provide the full spectrum of advanced critical care procedures, delivered by a doctor and critical care paramedic team.

Since the launch of the trial in March 2022, the charity’s critical care teams, based in Penrith, Cumbria and Teesside, North East, have been deployed 22 times, responding to road traffic collisions, medical incidents, falls, burns and a horse-riding incident, and the trial has since been extended for another year.

Over the next two years the charity is also trialling carrying whole blood on board their aircraft and rapid response vehicles, which will be used to treat severely injured patients who are at risk of bleeding to death.

Whole blood contains red blood cells, plasma and platelets (which help with clotting) all in one bag.

Since 2015 GNAAS’ critical care team has administered blood transfusions using red blood cells and plasma, so the trial will be looking at the clinical and cost-effectiveness of pre-hospital whole blood administration in comparison to the blood products they currently use.

Mr Mawson said: “We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved, which was only made possible because of the unwavering support of the people of the North of England. Now more than ever we need that support to make our dreams of full 24/7 care come true, and I know we can make every one of our supporters proud to be a part of our journey and our team.

“On behalf of everyone at GNAAS we’d like to thank those who have supported our charity, as you are all life-savers, and you fly with us on every mission. You have saved countless lives and kept families together across the region over the last 21 years. Let’s make the next 21 years even more incredible together.

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