RAF's jumbulance aids smooth intensive care unit move from Frenchay to Southmead

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

North Bristol NHS trust has been supported by the RAF in transporting critically ill patients from Frenchay to Southmead Hospital.

The RAF’s jumbulance was used to transfer 19 patients between the intensive care unit at Frenchay to the new ICU in the Brunel building over the weekend.

The large vehicle is fitted out like an ambulance but with room for more patients than in a conventional ambulance vehicle.

The RAF said it was the first time the jumbulance, based at RAF Brize Norton, was used to transfer so many patients between two hospitals.

It is usually used to transport injured forces personnel to hospital after they have been flown back from operations.


North Bristol NHS Trust ICU consultant Dr Curtis Whittle has experience of transferring patients after spending 19-and-a-half years in the air force’s critical care air support team, where his frontline role involved intensive care retrievals and transfers from around the world.

His experience means that Dr Whittle is used to transferring up to ten patients at a time with just six hours’ notice and a journey time of as much as 24 hours, so was able to take the transfer of critical care patients from Frenchay to Southmead Hospital in his stride.

And it also meant he knew that the jumbulance could aid the transport of patients across north Bristol, when he was appointed as the critical care move lead at North Bristol NHS Trust.

“I knew this resource existed and as move lead for critical care when we identified the issue of how to transfer the sickest patients in the hospital it occurred to me that this facility would enable us to halve the number of transfers we did and maintain patient safety all the way through by having good supervision,” Dr Whittle said.

“This is a unique facility. There wasn’t a commercial or private equivalent and this suits the purpose for our critical care transfer.”

Transfers took place between Frenchay and Southmead on Saturday and Sunday with four to five trips in the jumbulance each day.

Tactical Medical Wing Warrant Officer Brian Forrest, said: “The RAF provides aeromedical evacuation for all armed forces and uses specialist ambulances, including the jumbulance, to transfer patients from the airports to the receiving hospitals.

“This is the first time the jumbulance has been used for the direct support of an NHS Trust moving solely NHS patients.

“It is not unique for the RAF to move patients of the type being moved last weekend but it is believed to be unique for the NHS to use military specialist vehicles when transferring patients of this number.

“We hope the patient transfers were a complete success and the use of the jumbulance played some part in that.”

The ICU was the first of the Frenchay wards to transfer to the new Brunel building at Southmead Hospital Bristol.

It was followed by the A&E, which transferred at 2am on Monday.

Patients from other Frenchay wards started moving over to Southmead yesterday and will continue over the coming days.

The Frenchay ICU will remain open with two beds available until all the other wards have left Frenchay on Thursday as a precaution.

Of the new ICU, Dr Whittle said: “It’s an amazing resource. I’m very excited. I think it is going to make a big difference to the critical care service.

“It can provide access to light and air from the windows both for the staff and patients. From a patient rehabilitation point of view to view natural light and views outside when they have potentially been through a harrowing experience, it is going to assist in their recovery.”