IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 113

06 Any Time, Any Place | Leading the Way in South Africa
Major Milestone
Leading the Way in South Africa
Developing the air ambulance business in
South Africa was another example of spotting an
opportunity and careful timing. Before our entry
into the region the existing air ambulance service
was very variable. The poor quality of healthcare in
most areas of Africa meant that medical transports
were frequently needed, but they tended to be on
chartered aircraft hastily adapted with differing
degrees of medical service quality, and often
staffed by people unfamiliar with the special
needs of patients in flight.
Developing our air ambulance service in South
Africa was brought about by the teamwork of
Dr Ian Cornish and Dr Fraser Lamond. Ian was a
qualified medical doctor with experience working in
the trauma unit at Johannesburg Hospital, heading
Emergency Medical Services for the Transvaal.
He joined us in June 1999. Fraser joined soon after;
he too was a doctor with significant experience
in emergency service delivery, including air
evacuations. Fraser was our first Co-ordinating
Doctor and Medical Director in South Africa,
whilst Ian managed the business. As elsewhere
in our history, this close partnership between
medical and business functions paid off.
All agreed that developing a quality medical
transport service would put us on the map,
and the way to do that was to have a dedicated
air ambulance. Using their knowledge and contacts,
Ian and Fraser found a suitable plane, and by
guaranteeing 30 hours a month usage we gained
exclusive access to it.
The Falcon 10 arrived in June 2000 with its
permanent stretcher system. Extra equipment was
installed and it was ready to go. Almost immediately
it was called into action to collect a six-year-old boy
from Abidjan who had been bitten by a snake. The
boy and snake reached Johannesburg within a few
hours and the boy went straight into intensive-care.
The snake was identified as a West African Carpet
Viper and the appropriate treatment was given.
Without this speed of reaction the child would
probably have died. It was a great start.
Fraser spent time maximising the equipment on the
plane and training its staff. He recruited and trained
dedicated doctors who understood the difficulties
of working in confined spaces and dealing with
pressure changes on the physiology of sick patients.
Ours was South Africa’s first dedicated jet air
ambulance and the first air ambulance service to
have dedicated staff trained in aviation medicine.
The timing was right too. South Africa was one of
the few places in Africa with decent medical care
(the other was Egypt), but in the past patients
had not wanted to be evacuated there due to the
political situation. By the end of the 1990s that was
changing. Post-apartheid, South Africa became an
acceptable destination.
Another problem was flight clearances. In the past
some air ambulances had been used to smuggle
diamonds, and that gave such services a bad
reputation. As Fraser says, “A non-scheduled private
plane travelling to Nigeria in the middle of night was
usually seen as suspicious.” Having a dedicated and
clearly branded air ambulance allowed officials to
see regular and consistent ambulance activity.
Both the company and the plane became known
to the authorities, in a positive way, and this made
getting flight clearances much easier. Over time
we built up permanent clearances for 13 different
African countries. As in Singapore our standard
was to be in the air within two hours of a call out.
Most companies were looking at three to four hours,
so this gave us a clear competitive edge.


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