New multi-storey car park next to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital could cause patients to be dropped at Norwich Airport by helicopter and congestion near A&E
- Credit: Archant
Patients being rushed to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) by search and rescue helicopter could be dropped at Norwich Airport if a new 1,141-space multi-storey car park is to go ahead.
Health chiefs and aviation experts have raised concerns about plans, which were submitted to South Norfolk Council by Bullen Developments.
And although representatives from the NNUH say they welcome them in principle, the hospital and the provider of search and rescue (SAR) services have objected to the application citing concerns over patient care.
In a letter sent to the council on behalf of NNUH, it said: 'As you will appreciate the hospital provides major emergency care for the residents of Norfolk and the wider surrounding area. The nearest equivalent centre is in Cambridge.
'Much of the work of the SAR service involves very sick patients who require urgent (and in some cases lifesaving) care. The implication of the proposed arrangement is that SAR helicopters would not be able to land at [the hospital] and hence patients would need to be flown to Norwich Airport from where they would need to be transferred by ambulance. We believe this would be detrimental to patient care and in a critical care situation this would be very concerning.'
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SAR helicopters are larger than regular air ambulances - which can land almost anywhere - and descend at a different angle and gradient.
An NNUH spokesman added: 'It is vital that we are able to maintain access to our hospital for these specialist helicopters.'
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Clark Broad, SAR flight operations manger at Bristow Helicopters - who are contracted by the government to deliver search and rescue operations on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) - said the site was already considered a 'congested' area. But the new car park would mean any forced landing, possibly due to a power failure, would not be possible.
He added: 'The importance of the development is not contested. However the strategic importance of the helicopter landing site to patient care in the region is equally important.'
The location of the entrance of the car park – almost opposite access used by ambulances to get to accident and emergency – also raised fears that increased traffic and congestion could delay lifesaving treatment.
The letter sent in objecting on behalf of NNUH said: 'It is essential that this access is not subject to congestion or to any delays that could delay emergency vehicles.'
And an NNUH spokesman added: 'The proposed route may funnel traffic to a critical junction on the hospital site. We would like to see a more direct route which links from Hethersett Lane to the internal roundabout on the hospital perimeter road further west near the main hospital complex, and we have received specialist advice which shows this route would not affect traffic on surrounding roads. We are working with the planners and developers to reach a solution which benefits the patients, visitors and staff who use the hospital site.'
However, support was shown for the new car park by the John Innes Centre (JIC), based on the Norwich Research Park (NRP).
Professor Dale Sanders, director of the JIC, said in a letter he was writing to express 'strong support' and in context with aspirations for the research park the car park was well-located for 'potential future and existing users of the facility'.
He added: 'As you know the JIC attracts scientists from around the world to Norwich as a result of the quality of its research. The support facilities available on the NRP an the overall working environment and transport are an important part of the NRP appeal as a working location for our staff and I believe, for staff of all the organisations on the park.
'We hope that South Norfolk planners will feel able to support the proposed multi-storey car park in order that this important development can proceed without delay.'
It is proposed the four-storey car park would also house bicycle parking, toilets, a coffee kiosk and parcel collection lockers. If approved, it is hoped it would open in 2019.