Patient care could be ‘put in jeopardy’ if multi-storey car park prevents helicopters landing at hospital, health chief claims
A row over the proposed construction of a multi-storey car park at Norfolk’s busiest hospital continues more than seven months after plans were first submitted.
The private 1,093-space car park, which would be built by Bullen Developments, would be almost opposite to where ambulances access accident and emergency (A&E) at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).
But fears were raised by hospital bosses that the structure would stop search and rescue (SAR) helicopters from landing at the A&E helipad, and they might instead have to land at Norwich Airport and be transported by land ambulance.
SAR helicopters, which land at NNUH twice a month on average, are larger than regular air ambulances, which can land almost anywhere. They descend at a different angle and gradient.
Developers argued the hospital had provided no evidence SAR helicopters would not be able to land.
It was suggested an alternative landing site could be nearby Colney playing fields, owned by the University of East Anglia (UEA). But Simon Hackwell, NNUH’s director of strategy, said this was not feasible. He said: “It would require a significant number of staff to clear the playing fields and make the area safe before the helicopter could land each time and there would be additional time to transfer the patient to a land ambulance - assuming the ambulance service were in agreement and had capacity. All of this would delay the patient receiving the specific emergency medical treatment they require.
MORE: New multi-storey car park at N&N could cause patients to be dropped at Norwich Airport by helicopter
“As you are probably aware the UEA coupled with Norwich Rugby Club have extensive plans to develop the playing field site which would make it even more problematic, apart from the fact that the hospital has no agreement to use it.”
He added patient care should “not be put in jeopardy through the development of a new car park. The patient’s voice must be heard in this matter.”
In documents sent to South Norfolk Council, Debbie Laws, NNUH lead for emergency preparedness, resilience, response and business continuity, said: “I think we need to emphasise the clinical risk. Without wishing to sound dramatic, the clinical risk in terms of poorer patient outcomes is potentially significant should the helicopter be landing at an alternate site. Transfers from the UEA would take long enough, but if the alternative was the airport, the risk rises significantly, particularly in situations such as cardiac arrest and trauma.
“As you say we have a purpose built helipad in order that patients may receive lifesaving treatment as soon as is possible. Delaying that treatment by landing a distance away and being dependant on one, enough staff being available to clear the landing site (if UEA considered) and two the East of England Ambulance Trust actually having an ambulance free to meet it, is in my opinion very risky.”
She said patients were taken to NNUH because of its specialist services and “because of this every second counts”.
Previously Clark Broad, SAR flight operations manager at Bristow Helicopters - who are contracted to deliver SAR operations - said the site was considered a “congested” area.
But now, aviation consultant Maurice Bowman advised Bullen there is “no apparent safety issue associated with the car park”.
A spokesman for Bullen Developments said: ““It is not our policy to comment on planning applications while the process is underway. “However the application, which is a detailed reserved matters submission following existing outline planning permission, has involved us working closely with all partners to try and resolve any concerns surrounding the planned development.
“This includes an independent expert assessment of the impact of helicopter flights in and out of the site, which concluded that there is no apparent safety issue associated with the car park in obstacle terms and the status of the helipad would remain unchanged.”