CELEBRATIONS to mark 20 years of saving lives and helping those in desperate need are about to take off for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.

The service went online for the very first time at 8am on March 21, 2000.

Just 52 minutes later, they were tasked to their first mission.

Back then, the service, which is still based at Henstridge Airfield, operated during daylight hours in a Bölkow 105 helicopter and carried a crew of two paramedics and a pilot.

Now, 20 years on, the service has developed beyond recognition.

Their 20th anniversary sees them operating the most advanced air ambulance helicopter of its class in the world, delivering the highest possible standard of pre-hospital clinical care to the people of Dorset and Somerset for 19 hours a day.

The charity is marking their 20th anniversary with a ’20 Years By Your Side’ initiative which aims to showcase just how far they have come over the years with thanks to public support.

An area has been developed on their website which gives detailed information on the history of the charity, their key milestones, an insight into what happens when the air ambulance is tasked to an incident and a number of heartfelt stories from the patients who have needed their help.

A commemorative edition of the charity’s ‘Beeline’ magazine has also been produced. This is available to be viewed online via the charity’s website, or supporters can sign up to receive a copy by post or email.

Bill Sivewright, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance CEO said: “Over the years, technology, clinical practice, regulation and even patient expectation have changed dramatically.

"However, the changes we have made voluntarily, have been based on evidence and have all passed a simple test; will this benefit the patient? This approach has served us extremely well and has prevented us from making unnecessary and potentially expensive mistakes along the way, while ensuring that the things that we have changed, have all mattered.

“Public support has enabled us to do many great things, above all, it has helped us to save and improve thousands of patients’ lives.

"In the last six years, the number of patients in need of our service has quadrupled in size; we have been tasked to over 16,000 incidents, with more than 2,000 of these being last year alone.

"We have also spent the last two years broadening our examination to include areas that, while not directly affecting the critical care to a patient, offers indirect ways to improve patient care generally, or even help them avoid becoming a patient in the first place.

“To assist with the containment of COVID-19, we have already taken collective action in order to protect and assist in the effort to delay further spread. This includes the cancellation of events, door-to-door lottery canvassing, talks, cheque presentations and upcoming engagements which involve the gathering of people.

"This is something that is very hard for us to do, as we take pride in being able to thank our supporters in person for their wonderful support, whether that be by raising funds, or simply learning more about our life-saving work.

Yeovil Express:

“This week, we have also announced the cancellation of our 10th annual Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge, which was due to take place on Sunday, May 17.

"This is clearly disappointing as it is the only fundraising event that we organise ourselves and raises significant funds for the charity.

"The current situation with Coronavirus will have a significant impact on our fundraising in a number of ways, however our main priority with regards to our Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge must be to protect the health and safety of our patients, supporters, staff and the wider community, of whom we do not want to put at any unnecessary risk.

“We recognise that at this time the public may be concerned about their finances, however, we also know that they appreciate the life-chances that Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance can bring.

"In the last 20 years we have come so far. With the patient as our motivation and continued support from the public, we hope to be able to continue to innovate, develop and be there for the next 20 years and beyond.”

If you feel you can support us, you can do so in a number of ways. Some of these include:

• Pledging a one-off donation (any amount that you can afford) o Online: www.dsairambulance.org.uk/pledge o Post: Cheques made payable to ‘Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance’ can be sent to: DSAA, Landacre House, Castle Road, Chelston Business Park, Wellington, Somerset TA21 9JQ. Credit/Debit Card: By calling: 01823 669604

• Donate regularly via direct debit: www.dsairambulance.org.uk/direct-debit

• Join the Flight for Life Lottery - £1 per week, prizes to be won every week o Download a Lottery form from the charity’s website: www.dsairambulance.org.uk/lottery or contact the Lottery office on: 01202 849530, or email: lottery@dsairambulance.org.uk

• Celebrate and raise funds - dedicate your birthday, wedding or other special occasion to the charity and ask for donations online, instead of receiving presents.

To find out more about the work of Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance and how you can help them to be there for 20 years more, visit: www.dsairambulance.org.uk/20years.

Yeovil Express: