'If I'm wearing orange, my job is life and death': Paramedic discusses air ambulance's life-changing work

London's Air Ambulance medic Bill Leaning.

London Air Ambulance senior paramedic Bill Leaning. - Credit: London's Air Ambulance Charity

"If a horrible event does happen to you, there's a team out there that may give you back to your family."

Those are the words of Bill Leaning, senior flight paramedic for London's Air Ambulance (LAA) and the clinical manager of its Physician Response Unit (PRU).

Bill joined LAA in 2013 from London Ambulance Service (LAS) in search of a new challenge and said he has found his niche with the PRU.

He oversees the unit, which is the car-based element of the LAA's service and sees patients in their home rather than them attending an emergency department.

Delivered in partnership with LAS and Barts Health NHS Trust, the unit is made up of ten doctors, six ambulance clinicians and a nurse on rotation.


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It covers Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest and its remit has been extended during the Covid outbreak to provide end of life care and oncology treatment. 

Bill felt its work had been especially important since the beginning of the pandemic.

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He explained: "For many of our lonely, elderly patients, if they can die with dignity, care and comfort in their home, that is the best place for them.

"It's the same for the oncology patient who is receiving chemotherapy, they feel vulnerable, they don't want to go to hospital for fear of getting Covid - having our team come out and treat them has been massively reassuring for them."

Bill said he was "immensely proud" of the team, adding that they strive to provide quality medicine every day.

"This isn't about saying you can't go to the hospital. What we're aiming to do is to give the patient the best possible treatment we can in the best place." 

The Upminster resident also attends serious emergency incidents in his role as a flight paramedic.

He said the range of techniques they can deliver includes open heart surgery at the roadside to inserting a balloon into the aorta to stop patients from bleeding to death.

The latter method was used by a team, which included Bill, to save a woman's life and they won a Pride of Britain award in 2016 for their efforts.

He added: "If I'm wearing orange, my job is very much life and death. You're being sent to patients who are going to die if we don't do something about it.

"We can't save everyone but we try to give them the best possible opportunity."

He admitted that the job is a "tough gig".

When asked how hard it is to cope with the most harrowing cases, he said: "There are always bits that stay with you.

"When you come back to the pad, we have this black humour. We have the ability to let go and have a bit of banter with one another.

"In the world we live in at the moment, banter is a bit of an old-school thing. But that's how we destress - you need to come back and not take yourself seriously."

For Bill, patients are the most important thing in his work.

A mantra that Bill passes on to his team is to "wipe your feet before you go in someone's house".

"They might be a dysfunctional alcoholic who is laying in bed in their own urine, but they are a human being. They've ended up in that circumstance and we don't know how.

"It doesn't mean they're a bad person and doesn't mean they shouldn't get the same treatment."

The LAA's finances have been hit hard by the Covid pandemic and the charity has revealed it expects to lose £5m over the next two to three years.

Bill said any donation can enable it to make a life-changing difference.

"If someone donates £1m, great, but that's as important as someone who puts £2 in a pot.

"£2 might buy us a needle, that needle might be the injection of antibiotics that saves that young girl and gives her back to her family."

To donate, visit londonsairambulance.org.uk/donate.

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