The region’s ‘Blood on Board’ experts trial new life-saving technique

Major trauma patients across the region will now benefit from yet another life-saving medical approach, as the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) begins to carry defrosted Fresh Frozen Plasma (FFP) on board its aircraft.

The charity already carries red blood cells on board, enabling their specially trained medics to give blood transfusions to patients with life-threatening bleeding either on board, or at the roadside. This revolutionary approach recently celebrated its first anniversary in service when representatives from the organisations involved met patients who are alive today because of the rapid blood transfusions they were given at the scene of their accident. 

GNAAS teamed up with Newcastle Hospitals and the blood bikes charities in Northumbria and Cumbria and the Henry Surtees Foundation to make that project possible.

Now the team is looking to take it one step further by carrying plasma, which provides vital clotting components to help blood clots to form and to stop bleeding.


Photo caption l-r:  GNAAS Pilot Phil Lambert, John Quinn of Blood Bikes Cumbria, Dr Rachel Hawes RVI Consultant and GNAAS Air Doctor, Steve Rawlings of Northumbria Blood Bikes and GNAAS paramedic Andy Dalton

GNAAS will be one of the very first air ambulance charities in the UK to carry plasma onboard, which when give n together with the blood, is thought will offer patients an even better chance of survival.

Dr Rachel Hawes, the Consultant in Anaesthesia and Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) and GNAAS aircrew doctor who brought ‘blood on board’ to the North of England, explains the importance of this new development:

“The transfusions we currently give are purely O negative red blood cells. It replaces lost blood and ensures that the oxygen carried by the new blood gets to all the major organs, buying us as much time as possible whilst we stabilise and transfer the patient to the nearest Major Trauma Centre.”

Dr Hawes – also an Army Reservist with 201 Field Hospital - continues: “Blood on board has allowed us to greatly improve outcomes for our trauma patients. Yet scientific studies suggest that up to 30% of trauma patients with severe bleeding are no longer able to form blood clots normally by the time they arrive in the Emergency Department (ED), and in fact our own research confirms this to be the case in our region. This means that when the patients arrive in ED, they are in a condition known as coagulopathy – they haven’t been able to produce enough of their own blood clots to keep up with the bleeding and so the bleeding spirals out of control.

“By giving a more balanced transfusion, using equal volumes of red blood cells and plasma, we hope to prevent this happening to our critically ill patients, ultimately helping to save their lives.”
Dr Hawes adds: “We are delighted to be in a position to provide the most up to date, clinical techniques.”

A three month trial will now commence using the same cool boxes which were kindly donated by the Henry Surtees Foundation, which also provided blood warmers and two 4x4 vehicles to support the Blood Bikes with their transportation during poor weather.

The logistics will work exactly the same as in the blood on board project. Each day a member from both the Northumbria Blood Bikes and Blood Bikes Cumbria will collect a cool box from the RVI’s Blood Laboratories, transporting it to the two GNAAS airfields – Durham Tees Valley Airport and Langwathby, near Penrith.

Now the cool box will contain two units of blood and two units of plasma. The cool boxes keep their content cool for up to 48 hours and so if not used, they are returned to the RVI to be used during surgery and other procedures in the hospital.

Dr Hawes adds:  “To carry out a regional programme of this scale, across one of the most challenging geographical areas in the UK, takes great dedication and strong collaborative working. Blood, and now pre-hospital plasma on board the GNAAS aircraft, simply wouldn’t be feasible without the strength of our partnerships and without the support of the public, whose donations make it all possible.”

How blood is separated and used in hospital

Yvonne Scott, is the Transfusion Manager for the Newcastle Hospitals’ Blood Sciences Department. She has worked closely with Dr Hawes on the ‘Blood and Plasma on Board’ schemes – here she explains how blood is separated and used in hospital:

“Blood transfusions are an essential feature in the NHS, used to treat many different types of illnesses and conditions as well as replacing severe blood loss due to major trauma.

“Blood is a mixture of red blood cells, white blood cells (which help the immune system fight off infection), platelets and plasma. For blood to function normally you need all of these components.

“After blood is donated it's separated and split down into its different components which can be stored for longer. In most cases when we give blood or blood products in hospital the patient only needs one component. For example, if they are anaemic, they will receive just red cells. If they have a specific blood related disorders, they may just receive the platelets, and so on.

“However, if the patient is bleeding they are losing whole blood so we need to give the equivalent of whole blood back to the patient to keep them alive (which is a mixture of the above). Red blood cells carry oxygen round the body to the vital organs but plasma carries the clotting factors which are needed to make a blood clot and stop patients from bleeding.

“For major trauma patients, these are the two most important components in their time of need.”


For more information please contact:

Lynn Watson, Marketing Projects Lead for the Newcastle Hospitals on 0191 223 1543 or

Jim Entwistle, Head of Media and Communications for the Great North Air Ambulance Service on 01325 373258

Notes to Editors:

The Great North Major Trauma and Emergency Centre at the RVI:

  • Newcastle’s Great North Trauma and Emergency Centre is one of the busiest in country, seeing over 130,000 patients every year for a multitude of injuries and illnesses in need of urgent attention.  650 to 700 of these are classed as “major trauma” patients.
  • It is in the top five busiest major trauma centres in England after London, Nottingham, Birmingham and Leeds (which have larger and denser populations), and one of only 12 capable nationally of treating both adults and children.

Great North Air Ambulance Service:

  • The Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) is an air ambulance charity, which operates two helicopters, 365 days a year, across the North-East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria. 
  • GNAAS crews respond to around 1,000 call outs each year and on board our aircraft are specialist trauma doctors and paramedics, who bring expertise to the scene of the most severely ill and injured patients in our region.

Northumbria Blood Bikes and Blood Bikes Cumbria:

  • These charitable organisations were established by local volunteers to deliver rapidly, without cost, essential blood and urgent medical supplies, out of hours, between hospitals and healthcare sites and laboratories across the North East & Cumbria. 
  • They are part of a national network of Blood Bike groups, the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes.

Henry Surtees Foundation:

  • The Henry Surtees Foundation was inspired by motor sport legend John Surtees CBE, following the tragic death of his son Henry, killed aged just 18 years old whilst competing in Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch in 2009.                                                             
  • The Henry Surtees Foundation aims to raise funds to support accident care, with particular emphasis on head injuries, and help educate and train young people with motorsport-related programmes in technology, engineering and road safety instruction for two and four wheels. 
  • In 2015 the Foundation provided significant funding for the thermostatically controlled boxes and blood warmers, plus a three year lease with Vauxhall to supply a Vauxhall Mokka 1.7CDTi 4×4 SUVs for each of the Cumbria and Northumbria Blood Bike groups. HSF have a special relationship with Vauxhall and work in partnership to provide special lease terms for our support of transportation of blood between hospital and Air Ambulance.
© Copyright Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 2018 Site by TH_NK