HOSPITAL officials are locked in a bitter battle with neighbours who are complaining about the noise made by the life-saving air ambulance.
People living near Queen Alexandra Hospital say their televisions are drowned out by the noise of helicopter landings and claim their children are frightened by the aircraft’s engine noise.
Now they are trying to block a bid by the hospital to change the rules to allow helicopters – which also include the Solent Coastguard – to land at the Cosham site 24 hours a day.
The row came to a head this week during a heated showdown between residents and hospital managers during which neighbours said they had sympathy with patients but did not want to be disturbed at night.
QA consultants say it is vital to allow night-time landings on the helipad, which currently only operates between 8am and 6pm, to save lives.
And they also warn that failing to expand the service could see QA lose its designation as a heart attack centre, meaning such patients could end up having to go to Southampton instead.
Dr Richard Jones, consultant cardiologist and chief of medicine at QA, said: ‘Helicopters are mainly used by heart attack patients. When someone’s having a heart attack time is critical so it’s important they get here quickly and sometimes that means needing a helicopter. Changing the restrictions on landings could save lives.’
QA’s restrictions were laid down by Portsmouth City Council when it granted planning permission for the helipad to be built in 2007.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust will have to apply to the council to change the restrictions. Hospital staff say they only anticipate there being one out-of-hours landing a week, or possibly as few as one a fortnight.
Cosham councillor Terry Henderson, who supports residents who object to the changes, said: ‘All of us have sympathy and compassion for desperately-ill people and we don’t want to see them dying, and we don’t want to lose services to Southampton. But having said that there are real concerns from residents.’
Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he backed QA: ‘If you’ve got a hospital and a helipad which is used in an emergency, then use it,’ he said.
Michelle Ullett, from South Central Ambulance Service, which decides if and when to dispatch the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance, said: ‘The increased landing times at the helipad would mean that patients will be able to be transported straight into the hospital.’
QA will submit a planning application to the council on July 22. It will go before the planning committee in September.
Change is needed for heart attack victims
APPLYING to change the helipad landing restrictions is part of a move to safeguard the hospital’s heart attack services.
Southampton General Hospital provides the same cardiology service and is to get a 24-hour helipad soon.
If Queen Alexandra Hospital cannot do the same, it risks losing patients to Southampton and possibly losing its service entirely.
QA bosses fear their cardiology service could face the same fate as the vascular service which is under threat of being moved to Southampton.
Consultant cardiologist Dr Richard Jones said: ‘We provide a service to the Portsmouth area and to patients in West Sussex and the Isle of Wight. But commissioners are looking at heart attack provision at the moment, and meanwhile Southampton General Hospital has just secured planning permission to build a helipad.
‘Our concern is that if we can’t provide a 24-hour service to the Isle of Wight, they may go to Southampton instead. If we lose the Isle of Wight patients, then we risk losing our first-class flagship heart attack service entirely and all heart attack patients from this area would have to go to Southampton instead.’
Under the planning restrictions there can only be 260 landings in 12 months at QA’s helipad. But since the helipad opened in November 2007, it has only received 250 landings when it could have received 910.