While our teams in the skies continued their life-saving work with an added layer of caution and new procedures surrounding the recent Covid-19 risk, Life Flight’s office-based support teams have been working from home to help protect the crew.
Craig underwent rigorous training in decontaminating the aircraft and transporting potentially infectious patients while wearing PPE. He was then added to the roster for rotating 24 hour shifts along with Life Flight CE, Mark Johnston.
The transition from office staff to assistant crew member made sense for Craig whose, usual role involves regular interactions with the operations team and knowledge of safety systems at the Life Flight base. As part of building up this knowledge Craig has been working closely with Harry (Head of Service Operations, and Chief Heli pilot) and conducting a review of transfer procedures. This involved performing practical exercises in the setting up and use of the patient lifting systems. The reviews being an opportunity for “fresh eyes” to look over the process, and the equipment, with a view to identifying where improvements could be made. The overall patient transfer process was familiar to Craig who had become well practiced in the procedures, but not operationally. Craig now found himself no longer being an observer, now finding himself directly involved.
There was a bit of apprehension waiting for that first job, Craig said, but then a few weeks ago, our team got their first suspected Covid-19 patient plane transfer while he was on-call. “I was out for a walk one day and I saw the helicopter fly overhead, heading back to base. Then the next thing, my phone goes off. It was actually Crewman Colin on the line saying, could you meet me at base?” From the moment he took that call, it was all go.
Being the first transfer Craig said, there was a lot of discussion happening on the base. Colin, who was also coordinating the transfer, and Craig went through what was needed to get prepared, before the Medical Team arrived.
Craig said that what helped alleviate some of the nerves prior to his first job, was that the hospital gave a full briefing prior which was extremely thorough and went through all the different roles and steps of the mission.
During the process, the team were communicating with each other constantly throughout to ensure everyone was happy with how things were proceeding. Along with PPE gear, other steps are taken to ensure protection of everyone onboard the plane, for example the recirculation fan in the plane is switched off, this forces the airflow to be from front to back of the aircraft. Keeping the pilots safe from breathing potentially infected air. All personal effects are kept in sealed bags, and those in the cabin had to wear two layers of gloves at all times - changing that outer layer often, especially if touching the patient.
Craig also kept a trained eye on everything that was touched in the aircraft during the mission so that “when it came to decontamination I had an idea of where the high contact areas were. The way we’ve approached it, we’ve been quite methodical. Discussing the process immediately after the missions and documenting the process. It’s been quite robust because the first few times, we took our time.”
Subsequent transfers couldn’t have been achieved without a strong base to start with.
“Covid-19 heightens the importance of everything we do. I think it just reinforces that what we already do is actually best practice.”
When asked how he felt about his role in the team, Craig says, “The team works so well anyway, so it’s quite easy to slip into a good team because they know what they’re doing. Makes it nice and simple.”
That first mission took place in one of Life Flight’s Air Ambulance Planes and it was a huge learning curve for everyone involved. This paved the way for the missions that followed afterwards.