Andrew Lee started with frank words: “We as an industry need something to be done to ensure we’re doing the best we can for our clients and crews.” This central issue would be reiterated through the panel.
Aeromed GB’s Terry Martin was travel across East and Southeast Asia working with air medical operators during its earliest months and was aware of how seriously they were taking it, and how a lot of the West wasn’t: “My immediate action was about the need of how to decide how to move patients with Covid-19.
“How do you know that any patient is not carrying that virus? It occurred to me we should treat all patients the same – as though transporting highly infectious patients.”
Initially, Martin published his thoughts in two key categories: is the aircraft suitable for the transfer of highly infectious patients and does the service offer patient isolation capability? He emphasised the fastidious nature of planning and communication but noted: “It was ultra-important we get it right immediately. We have to protect not only the medical staff but crew, pilots, ground ambulance, have they been properly informed of the risks?”
The issue of data would see a lot of discussion; the panel asserted we all have commercially sensitive data that we keep to ourselves. But there is enough data to create a fascinating insight. “If we don’t share data, how to we create best practice?”
FAI’s Volker Lemke detailed how, as early as January 2020, FAI had been approached about transferring patients from China to Europe, and it was the pilots that would immediately refuse without proper isolation units. From January, FAI ordered its first EpiShuttles and subsequently ordered IsoArks in anticipation.
International outbreaks weren’t being covered in the media, but FAI could track but the locations of pick-up locations – Africa and the Middle East, mainly Afghanistan. Country restrictions resulted in the loss of standard hubs, and the loss of proven routes that have been in use for years. Having to identify new hubs where teams can land and/or stay overnight. But it ultimately meant fewer overnight stays. Entry requirements also changes daily, and each country had its own rules, and there was the reality of no-way areas. “We see some light on the horizon, but it’s still difficult.”
The importance of accurate and up-to-date information that can be sent to medical partners is itself already a priority but was heightened during the pandemic. There were also greater requirements, such as height and weight for consideration with PMIUs.
The audience Q&A
Lee again stressed that central point: are we in a place of minimum standards? The panel, for the most part, agreed that it was extremely difficult for global requirements to be asserted but best practice could be disseminated.
Questions included the basis of any standards, and whether we really have enough evidence to create that standard, and on what? To which Dr Vanya Gant, who also delivered the ITIC keynote speech, stated that the discussion was at risk of conflating several issues: “I’ll say this once: there is more than enough evidence to write a firm set guidance to prevent transmission.”