1 August 2018
John Baker Reporter
WILTSHIRE’S Air Ambulance has been grounded for the second time in three months and the new £5 million airbase at Semington closed while specialist teams scour all equipment and vehicles for traces of the deadly nerve agent Novichok.
All emergency kit, clothing and vehicles, including the life-saving helicopters, are to be tested for contamination.
Police said the move was a “highly precautionary” response in the wake of the poisonings of Amesbury couple Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess in Salisbury. Ms Sturgess later died.
The charity is unable to say how long the air ambulance will be out of service but staff have reassured residents that rapid response cars, which are fitted out with the same medical equipment, will be available.
The Wiltshire air ambulance helicopter only resumed flying operations again on July 20 after being grounded for 35 days due to mechanical problems.
In a statement, the police said: “The highly precautionary process, is designed to ensure that no onward contamination has taken place.
“The risk of this is assessed as low, however it is essential that no chances are taken and this is why the work is taking place.
“To ensure that the specialist sampling teams are able to complete their work unimpeded, the Air Ambulance base, located in Semington, will close temporarily from 5pm on Wednesday (August 1).
“During the course of the work, the Air Ambulance will also be subject of precautionary sampling and will be unable to fly.
“During the period that the helicopter is unable to fly, the charity’s paramedics and doctors will remain fully operational providing critical care in Wiltshire by using Rapid Response Cars. The cars have the same specialist medical equipment that is on-board the helicopter.
“It is important to again stress that the testing forms part of the wider response to the incident and is being undertaken on a precautionary basis.
“The advice from Public Health England has not changed since the start of this incident – the risk to the public and first responders remains low. It has, therefore, not been necessary to shut this site before.
“At the conclusion of the work the results will inform what if any, wider remediation work needs to take place.”
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, who is leading the multi-agency response to the incident said: “We are very aware that this news might cause some concern to our communities.
“The work we are undertaking forms part of the wider ongoing response to the incident and is the next logical precautionary step in the process.
“This highly precautionary activity is focused on ensuring that we take all steps necessary to consider any remediation activity which may be necessary in the longer term to further reduce any residual risk.”
Chief Executive of Wiltshire Air Ambulance David Philpott said: “As is normal procedure when our helicopter is unable to fly, our paramedics and doctors will respond to emergencies in Rapid Response Cars, providing critical care to patients.
“We are incredibly proud to provide a lifesaving service in Wiltshire and surrounding counties and thank everyone, including our colleagues at neighbouring air ambulances, who will offer support in the short term.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said: “All agencies are working closely together and are working incredibly hard to ensure the safety of staff and of course of the public.
“It’s right that action is taken to rigorously and thoroughly test where the scientific advice dictates its appropriate to do so. Public safety must remain the number one priority and I am confident this is at the absolute forefront of any action taken.”