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On Board with new Blood Trial

Thames Valley Air Ambulance has joined a trial to carry ‘whole blood’ on board our vehicles, for the treatment of patients suffering from severe blood loss.

We join nine other air ambulance charities across the country using whole blood as part of the SWIFT (Study of Whole Blood in Frontline Trauma) trial. The project is led by NHS Blood and Transplant in partnership with the Ministry of Defence and Air Ambulances UK.

What is whole blood?

‘Whole blood’ is where all the components of blood – such as red blood cells, plasma, and platelets – are in one bag rather than being separated.

Our crews currently carry and administer red blood cells and plasma separately, as they are easier to store and have a longer shelf life than whole blood which contains platelets.

Platelets, the part of the cell which helps blood to clot, must be stored at a set temperature and need constant movement to keep them oxygenated. This has historically made them difficult to use outside of hospitals which is why red blood cells and plasma are currently used. However, as platelets contribute to the clotting mechanism, they help reduce further bleeding and support a patient’s blood pressure.

The trial aims to compare the two transfusion methods and, if successful, could reduce trauma deaths in civilian patients as well as casualties on the battlefield or in any situation where delaying a transfusion by minutes or even seconds could be critical.

Thames Valley Air Ambulance Chief Operating Officer Adam Panter said: “We are proud to be collaborating with NHS Blood and Transplant, Air Ambulances UK, and Defence Medical Services to support this trial. Patient care is at the very heart of all that we do at Thames Valley Air Ambulance and so we welcome the opportunity to look at innovations which may improve the outcomes for those suffering these kind of injuries.

“This trial forms part of a key area of work at Thames Valley Air Ambulance, looking at areas where patient outcomes can be improved and implementing treatments and techniques which give them the best chances of recovery.”

Dr Laura Green, co-chief investigator for SWIFT and Consultant in Haemostasis and Transfusion Medicine at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “The role of air ambulances in providing blood transfusions at the scene of an incident is crucial – delivering the most challenging treatments in the most challenging environments.

“Any delay to starting transfusion during traumatic blood loss can reduce the chances of survival. We hope that SWIFT will show there are logistical and procedural benefits in giving a blood transfusion of all of the components in a single bag – and ultimately improved outcomes for patients.

“We are grateful to be working in partnership with air ambulance organisations and the Defence Medical Services to drive innovation and provide even better care to critical patients. We are also incredibly grateful to our O Rh negative donors, whose universal donor blood is critical in trauma transfusion – including in this trial.”