Frozen plasma on Thames Valley air ambulances will save lives

An air ambulance attended the crash scene

An air ambulance attended the crash scene

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Thames Valley Air Ambulance now carries life-saving Fresh Frozen Plasma (FFP) on board its helicopter and emergency response vehicle, the vital clotting components of human blood.

TVAA is one of very few air ambulance charities in the country to use FFP. It is now administered together with O Negative red blood cells (which have been carried on board since 2014) to give blood transfusions to patients suffering from severe blood loss.

In the past two weeks, TVAA’s medical crews have given two life-saving blood transfusions with the addition of plasma to patients with major haemorrhaging in the Thames Valley.

TVAA Emergency Medical Doctor, Dr James Raitt, has worked closely with Julie Staves and the Transfusion Laboratory at the John Radcliffe Hospital’s blood bank in Oxford to enable the service to carry FFP on board and explains its importance:

“Blood transfusions are given to treat a multitude of illnesses as well as to replace blood loss in major trauma, therefore when it is donated it is separated into various components that are used to treat patients in different ways,” says Dr Raitt.

“Current evidence and NICE trauma guidelines now recommend that if a patient is bleeding to death, they should receive both ‘packed red cells’ (which carry oxygen) and ‘plasma’ (which carries the clotting factors to help stop the bleeding).

“Up until now, it has only been viable for TVAA to carry red blood cells on board due to it being more readily available and the way it is able to be stored and recycled. Plasma is scarcer and once thawed from its frozen state it only has a five day shelf-life before it has to be discarded.

“As the John Radcliffe is the major Trauma Centre for the region, we are confident that thawed plasma not used by the air ambulance in a 48 hour period can be returned to the hospital via the blood bank and used by the emergency medical teams there without any waste. This partnership is pivotal in improving survival rates for patients needing blood products (red blood cells and plasma) to treat severe haemorrhaging before they reach hospital.”

Thames Valley Air Ambulance is situated at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. This location acts as central point to the counties it serves, enabling the helicopter to reach any destination within Berkshire, Oxfordshire or Buckinghamshire in less than 15 minutes.