Andrew Cameron, chief executive of London’s Air Ambulance, explains how the organisation’s independence has helped it achieve its goal of reducing deaths from road accidents.
Andrew Cameron, chief executive of London’s Air Ambulance, explains how the organisation’s independence from government has helped it achieve its goal of reducing deaths from road accidents.
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What does the Air Ambulance do?
The organisation only deals with what’s called major trauma, so in the case of road traffic collisions where there’s been amputations, partial amputation, entrapment in a vehicle or death.
How do you link in with the other emergency services?
We link in via the London Ambulance Service who are the people that task us, but also we are based at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel on the helipad up on the roof. The Royal London Hospital is the leading trauma hospital in the country. In fact if you’re badly injured and you get taken to the Royal London you have a 28 per cent better chance of surviving than you do being taken to any other hospital.
Would you prefer to be government-run?
The Health Service is very good to us in that they do give us, through the London PCTs, about half our costs. Our costs are about £2 million and they give us about £980,000. We wouldn’t mind more money from the Government but having been clinically set-up from the beginning we like to control what we do, what we deal with. We know that particularly under government, without being political, particularly under current government, it’s all about targets, standards… and our view is that if we were fully funded and therefore controlled, that it would be said that we would have to do say eight jobs a day or six jobs a day. And that would of course involve moving out of the major trauma area and into moving Boy B, with a broken arm, from here to Oxford.
How is The London Air Ambulance funded?
Virgin are quite good to us they give us £192,000 a year. They also underwrite the lease with The Bank of Scotland, which is helpful for a charity that doesn’t have assets. The rest of it is a multitude of activities: collecting pots in shops, garages other outlets, bucket collecting and tube lines and supermarkets are also pretty good to us. Special events whether it’s marathons, British 10K runs. A lot of members of the public do their own thing for us: they put on a karaoke night or you know any way of raising money locally. And whether it’s £5 or £5,000 every pound is a pound less that we have to raise.
Do you function like a business?
Yeah… we’ve always been business-like. I mean you have to treat a charity like any other business, it’s costs and it’s revenue: so costs continuing to rise, that’s pretty inevitable, so you have to look at it on that basis. We do our monthly P&L accounts, we do our monthly balance sheets, we have auditors, we have all the financial input that we need and and so on. So yes it’s run like a business.
Is running a social enterprise satisfying?
Oh it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was Managing Director of Express Newspapers years ago and main board director of United News and Media. And that company was taken other and I found myself at a loss and I went into the charitable side of things. And because my company paid for the first helicopter, Express Newspapers paid for the first helicopter as a charitable donation. So having knowledge of that over many years enabled me to slip into the air ambulance business more easily. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life, when you look at a child… Recently we had a child who slipped over in a school playground. Now normally children bounce, she was five. Anyway when the doctors got there her arms were turning and he thought she was dead, or on the point of dying. Anyway he managed to keep her going, got her back to hospital and they had to open up the back of her head to clear the blood clots and all that sort of thing. Six days later she’s going home. Now her mum’s been brilliant in putting on little events and so on. When I see her now, if she ran in here, you’d never know anything had happened to her, you’d just say that’s one bouncy little girl. That’s what makes it worthwhile because without our service she would have died.