WALES Air Ambulance medics will soon be able to communicate more effectively in areas with little or no connectivity thanks to a donation of nearly £16,000 from the Lions’ Clubs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wales Air Ambulance has been increasingly supporting healthcare across Wales, in different settings, often at short notice. This has resulted in communication challenges, particularly in rural areas of Wales or in environments where mobile and Wi-Fi signals are poor, such as remote hospitals or field hospitals.

Wales Air Ambulance recently worked on a UK Space Agency and Tactical Wireless Limited project that was looking to improve connectivity to support the delivery of healthcare in rural areas.

This prompted the idea of a unique product that would provide a portable, secure mobile network by connecting to multiple phone networks. It would also deliver a secure Wi-Fi hotspot, needed by the air ambulance medics to convey vital medical information to the hospital ready for them to receive the patient. Further connections such as satellite or wired broadband can also be fixed to improve connectivity.

The benefits of this enhanced network would be particularly felt during major incidents or in support of field hospitals or other temporary healthcare facilities. It the case of the current pandemic, it would also offer reassurance that team members could still effectively communicate with each other when physical distancing is in place. In addition, it can be used to support the wider Charity office functions if there was any service disruption.

A grant of £15,840 from the Lions’ Emergency COVID-19 Relief Fund will allow Wales Air Ambulance to buy the equipment to develop its innovative communication idea and introduce it in support of their COVID-19, and non-COVID-19, work.

Dr David Rawlinson, the Services’ Research Manager, said: “Connectivity is an issue for our service on occasions. However, it has become more acute during the pandemic as we support local general hospitals and field hospitals – especially in rural areas. The equipment we are hoping to introduce can boost a weak phone signal from multiple phone networks to give the best chance of connecting to the internet.

On behalf of our service, I would like to thank the Lions Clubs’ for their significant donation. Their support will not only help us during our contribution to the fight against COVID-19 but it will have a significant impact longer-term in support of our everyday critical care work. The impact could very well be beyond Wales as well, as the successful introduction of this innovation communication system may be something that other critical care and emergency services consider for their own use.”

Lions Clubs’ District Governor for Central North, John Chambers, said “We know that air ambulance charities have been busier than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve faced considerable extra – unbudgeted day-to day costs at the same time as lockdown has affected fund-raising.

“Now, thanks to an emergency COVID-19 relief grant from the Lions Clubs International Foundation, we can provide immediate support for this emergency service that touches lives in all our local communities.”

Lions Clubs have been working with Air Ambulances UK, a national organisation representing and supporting the lifesaving work of the UK’s 21 air ambulance charities. Together, they compiled a list of equipment and supplies needed by individual air ambulance charities – totalling £161,468.

Local Lions have continued to support their communities facing difficulties due to COVID-19. This latest boost for air ambulance charities comes on top of £140,000 awarded in grants to foodbanks and other causes nominated by Lions clubs across the British Isles.

Heather Benjamin, Chair of Air Ambulances, UK said: “The donation of equipment and supplies by Lions helps air ambulance charities to support the COVID-19 response and their communities in these extraordinary times and beyond.”

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