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Latest News Innovating for Impact: Inside the High-Flying Operations of East Anglia Air Ambulance

Innovating for Impact: Inside the High-Flying Operations of East Anglia Air Ambulance

East Anglian Air Ambulance needs no introduction for those native to the east of England, but for those further afield, they are a charity providing 24/7 life-saving critical care by air and road across Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Bedfordshire, deployed on roughly 3,000 missions to medical emergencies annually.

Many will recognise the yellow helicopter in the sky (while hoping never to need to use its services), but few are aware of the sophistication of operations involved in delivering this service. Across its two sites, the charity employs 119 staff and has 150 – 200 volunteers.

We caught up with Richard Hindson, Director of Operations and Infrastructure, to talk about the charity, the complexity involved in operating a life-saving service, and how it came to choose Alan Boswell Group (ABG) as its insurance broker.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the East Anglian Air Ambulance and its history?

The ABG team on a recent site tour of EAAA’s Norwich base

“The charity was formed in Norfolk in 2000 and became operational in 2001. There were three founders: Patrick Peale, Andrew Edgerton-Smith, and Gerry Hermer. Due to the rural nature of Norfolk, there was an acknowledgement that road vehicles may struggle to access some areas or that it would take them a lot longer. So, the charity was founded based on the model of other air ambulance trusts in the country.

“Back then, the service consisted of one paramedic one day a week. Over the last 20 years, the service has evolved significantly, and we now have one aircraft operating 24/7 from Norwich, another operating twelve hours a day, seven days a week from Cambridge, plus rapid response vehicles operating from both sites 24/7.

“Along the way, the sophistication of our service has dramatically changed beyond all recognition. It’s not just the frontline support that everyone recognises us for; there are so many other aspects of the organisation now, including fundraising, partnerships, research and insights, development in care provision, data management, and cyber. People probably aren’t aware that we don’t just participate in pre-hospital emergency care; we’re pioneers and are seen as authorities on it.”

 

What does the frontline support the charity provides look like?

“The people we are deployed to are the very sickest of the sick; they’re critical care patients who are on the very edge of life. We work closely with the ambulance service, not only attending emergencies but also at a strategic level, ensuring that we’re getting sent to the right jobs. We’re really at the heart of an effective operation.

“With the evolution of technology, we’re bringing the hospital to the patient. We have very senior doctors, critical care paramedics, and all the technology you can get in an emergency department. The ability to perform ultrasound, surgical procedures, and anaesthetise a patient at the scene are all capabilities we have now, so it’s not a “pick up the patient, and fly” service anymore; we’re taking all the expertise to the patient.”

 

While undoubtedly a vital life-saving service, it all comes at a cost. Can you tell us a bit about how that works as a charity?

“The service costs roughly £19million a year to run, and the funds we raise don’t just go towards running the service but also to innovation and developing pre-hospital care. About a third of our income comes from our lottery, another third from gifts in Wills, and the final third from the generous support of the East Anglian community.”

In the last five to six years, there’s been a lot of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and the cost-of-living crisis, but we’ve managed to weather it well. I think that’s down to how much the community values what we do. It’s easy to understate, but it’s phenomenal when an organisation like ours needs additional support, and the community pulls together to give us that [support].

 

With such a complex operation, there must be many risks to contend with. Can you tell us a bit about those?

“We work in a heavily regulated industry, with compliance requirements from the Care Quality Commission, the Gambling Commission, the Charity Commission, and the Health and Safety Executive to contend with. And then, in terms of threats to the charity; cyber and inverted data breaches are a big threat.

“We’re also an organisation significantly impacted by variations in fuel prices, inflationary pressures, exchange rates, investment movements, and wage rises. So, we have to be aware of the global outlook, too.

“Of course, in terms of the actual frontline work we’re doing, there is an inherent risk to the level of clinical intervention we’re doing at the scene, both operationally and to the patient. But we’re incredibly well governed, and there are very good checks and balances in place to manage the risks. We also have the appropriate insurance cover to back us up.”

 

Moving on to insurance, tell us how your search for a new insurance broker came about.

“We had been with our previous broker for a long time and had no particular complaints, but I felt it was time to see how other brokers could support us. I wanted to find a provider that would take the time to understand our organisation and is interested in doing that work. The previous broker was geographically more distant, making face-to-face meetings challenging. The quality of the service and the willingness to get to know the organisation was key in our search, whether it was a national broker or a regional one.

“So, I approached several brokers, including Alan Boswell Group, at the end of 2022.”

 

After a tendering process, Alan Boswell Group was appointed the East Anglian Air Ambulance’s insurance broker in April 2023. Since then, the team has been working to get to know the charity and the unique risks it faces, as well as the complexity of the organisation.

“Sam [Brown, Account Executive] and Sophie [Gibson, Account Handler] have been fantastic. They’ve been really supportive and respond to queries quickly. We’ve needed lots of advice over this first year, and it’s always come promptly and accurately.

“After the appointment, Sam and Sophie reviewed our existing insurance programme to make sure it was up to date and reflected our risks, and they also searched the market to make sure our premium is competitive. Going forward, the team at ABG is working with us closely in a “trusted adviser” role, which has given us confidence in the protection and service, as well as peace of mind to focus on the day-to-day and strategic missions.”

Every time I interact with the team, they want to know more about the organisation to try and understand it better. You said you would be there when we needed you. You said you’d get to know the organisation. You said you’d be responsive. You said you’d come and see us regularly, even if there wasn’t a particular issue that needed to be discussed. And that’s exactly what you’ve done. So, from that point of view, you’ve delivered on everything you said you would, so I genuinely couldn’t ask for anything more. We’re now working with a broker that we have a local connection with and that we feel connected to as an organisation.

 

Looking to the future, what’s next for the charity?

“The single biggest strategic challenge in the near future is a new capital appeal and project. We’ll be sharing more details of this in the coming months.

“Among the other objectives, we want to train tens of thousands of people in CPR, as it’s crucial to the chain of survival in the event of a cardiac arrest and continue to develop our research into pre-hospital care and drive improvements.

“We also need to negotiate the environmental impact of our service, not only with respect to the aircraft but also the organisation as a whole. We’re a forward-thinking organisation, so over the next 5 – 10 years, we need to do everything we can to reduce our environmental impact.”


You can find out more about how to support the East Anglian Air Ambulance here.

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