Faster NHS hospital transfers under trailblazing new HM Coastguard helicopter agreement 

Faster NHS hospital transfers under trailblazing new HM Coastguard helicopter agreement 

An agreement that is the first of its kind in England has been signed to make it easier for HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopters to respond to requests to transport seriously ill or injured adult patients between NHS hospitals in South West England. 
HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter at the Newquay base

The collaboration between the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Retrieve Adult Critical Care Transfer Service, hosted by University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW), has been hailed as a "blueprint" for future relationships between the MCA and other transfer services across the country. 

Maritime Minister Baroness Vere said: “One of the Government’s priorities is to cut waiting lists, so it’s great to see this new partnership as an excellent example of how collaboration across sectors can result in improved outcomes and could ultimately save lives.  

“Patients in need of time-critical care will now have access to the services they need with greater speed and efficiency.” 

The agreement is a memorandum of understanding between the MCA, which is responsible for the helicopters, and UHBW. 

It involves the red and white HM Coastguard helicopters which are a familiar sight in search and rescue operations. 

An HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter flying above the sea
The red and white HM Coastguard helicopters are a familiar sight along the coast

They are sometimes also sent to support the NHS to fly seriously ill or injured patients, medical teams and equipment to cut the time spent travelling between hospitals for specialist care. 

The new memorandum sets out the relationship between the two organisations, with Retrieve gaining “Trusted Partner” status, allowing the service to contact HM Coastguard directly for their assistance with these kinds of missions. 

The aim is to simplify the process and improve the speed and efficiency of transfer for these critical patients.  

The agreement is specifically designed to ensure that core search and rescue operations can be continued, while facilitating hospital transfers as effectively as possible. 

The memorandum has taken effect after being formally signed by HM Coastguard Director Claire Hughes and Alison Lowndes, Divisional Director for Surgery at UHBW. 

Claire Hughes, Director of HM Coastguard, said: “In serious medical situations, every second counts and this agreement will help critically ill and injured patients across the South West of England by transporting them to where they need treatment by the NHS. 

“We’re proud to be in the first group of public bodies in England to work together in this way to make the very best use of our search and rescue helicopters, making a real difference to seriously ill adult patients.  

“We hope this blueprint agreement is the first of many between public bodies around the country.” 

The rear entrance of the HM Coastguard helicopter based at Newquay
The helicopters will transfer patients, medics and equipment

Ms Lowndes said: “It is essential for patients who require time-critical transfer that clinical teams are able to work smoothly across organisational boundaries. We are delighted to be working in partnership with the MCA to support our clinical teams across the South West.  

“This agreement establishes a strong governance platform on which services can work together and share knowledge to best meet the needs of our patients when literally, every minute matters.” 

The HM Coastguard helicopters are operated on behalf of the MCA by helicopter provider Bristow. 

Michael Henson, Bristow Medical Manager, said: “This agreement represents an important step forward for people and communities in South West England.  

“By improving shared understanding it will support and streamline a safe and efficient service, driving better patient care.” 

Retrieve is hosted by UBHW and commissioned by NHS England / Improvement South West. It operates from bases covering the Peninsula (Launceston in Cornwall) and Severn (Bristol) regions. 

The area covered by Retrieve includes all hospitals in the South West Critical Care Network from Gloucestershire to Cornwall. 


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