A Lottery for London?

Ivan Massow at London's Air Ambulence

This journey to Mayordom is full of surprises. This week's surprise is that two essential healthcare services, Whizz-Kids and London's Air Ambulance, are in fact self-funded charities that receive minimal NHS support.

Being able to respond to the approximate six major traumas per day in London that demand both a doctor and paramedic; or supplying appropriate wheelchairs, equipment and training to 70,000 disabled children nationally that are 'waiting for their childhoods to start' shouldn't be a lottery. Unfortunately, it often is.

No Child Should Wait For Their Childhood To Start

If you have a kid who needs a wheelchair, electric or otherwise, the NHS sends you home with a 'best fit'. Take for example the NHS waiting time for a powered chair, it's currently two years. That's too long to wait for a childhood to start. If you can't afford the often thousands of pounds for this equipment, let alone know how to train your child to safely use it, they put you in touch with Whizz-Kids.

In London alone there's currently 65 children on this waiting list despite having transformed the lives of 311 in the last year alone. Their CEO Ruth Owen, a wheelchair user herself, told me "we're always fundraising because there are more kids who want wheelchairs than we have money to pay for. There's a waiting list.".

These People Are Heroes

The London ambulance service - funds its £5million annual running costs with their own lottery which has 45,000 active players who have raised them £2.5million. Like Whizz-Kids they also have some commercial sponsors and make up the rest from community fundraising initiatives in schools and the odd Women's Institute cake sale. It's a long time since Virgin have sponsored them and in any event, they only paid 5% of the costs - Richard Branson's a canny PR operator: most people thought he paid for the entire service, and two years since he pulled out, most people still call it the Virgin Air Ambulance service. 

What's incredible is that this service, this fourth emergency service (which, incidentally, Margaret Thatcher was instrumental helping start in 1989) is so vital. It's not in fact an ambulance. Unlike Ambulances, the helicopters or one of their cars, deliver an 'advance trauma' doctor and paramedic to the scene to perform road-side treatment to save the life. Of the 6.1 major traumas a day, the unit gets to six in an average of only six minutes. A regular ambulance would arrive without the trauma team and takes up to 40 minutes. And when the air ambulance arrive, it effectively brings the hospital to the patient.

During my visit, Dr Gemma Mullen, the Air-doctor on duty, took me through that weeks incident list. As we stood before this whiteboard of personal catastrophes, some interesting and slightly creepy facts came to light. While a lot of the incidents were serious road traffic injuries, over 25% were stabbings. More disturbingly, most of the stabbings on the list were to the "Buttocks". At first glimpse this looked slightly comical - having something of the benny hill about it. But the reason for this rising trend is actually sinister and very calculating.

Sentencing for criminals who stab people below the thorax carries lesser tariff in court - because it's not seen as an intent to kill. The buttock, however, is one of the most fatal targets because it houses major arteries which are hidden in deep fatty tissue so the bleeding is incredibly hard to stop. In addition, damage to the bowel will result in a colostomy bag for life if you do survive. This is nasty stuff.

Another interesting thing I learned is that you're more likely to suffer a major trauma if you're a man - presumably because we're a bit more foolhardy. Cyclists are the only exception to the rule: women suffer additional dangers because, apparently, they are too considerate/law abiding and lorries run them over while they wait at traffic lights. As Mayor I'm going to have a few things to say about how we can reduce cycling deaths, but that is for another article.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that Pediatric Trauma, a major injury to an infant, child or adolescent is the number one cause of death amongst this age group. No matter what the biggest fear parents have, this is the single threat to our children. London's Air Ambulance has seen that there's a skew towards their patients being young. Going back to the board Gemma showed me - one patient was just 8 years old, the Air Ambulance saved them.

The work these two organisations do transforms the lives of children, parents, families - communities. It protects our future.

ivan massow

Funding That Will Transform The Future Of London

Currently London's Air Ambulance is trying to raise money for a second helicopter. Getting another air ambulance would mean there's no 'downtime' in service - for example when maintenance is essential, or when major incidents - such as 7/7 or riots happen. Currently it suffers from around 60 days a year for essential repairs and servicing. We can make it operational for 365 days, and have an enhanced service for the majority, with economies of scale meaning the future operational costs of an additional helicopter are low. This additional service would cost no more than £1.2million a year to run - a drop in the ocean for London but an awful lot of cakes that need baking down at the Women's Institute.

Last year George Osborne freed up £1million from fines levied on the banks in the Libor scandal to London's Air Ambulance - but it clearly needs more. He also scrapped VAT on fuel for air ambulances which has reduced costs. But London needs to do more - this is our problem and despite our city being the cash generator for the rest of the country - we get very little of it for things we need. In fact, in terms of NHS spend, Scotland gets 10% more than us per head.

The London Lottery

If the mayor got behind London's Air Ambulance's own lottery scheme - possibly creating a London Lottery for all of London's needs - we could generate vast sums. Based on the daytime population of London and the National Lottery's own figures, we could possibly generate up to £295 million a year. That's enough to buy Ruth 245,833 new wheelchairs every year or solve the air ambulance problem about 250 times with change for a couple of garden bridges in year two.

I'm an entrepreneur and raising more money to make London better for Londoners is a walk in the park - it doesn't have to cost us anything and we don't need to introduce punitive taxes. Londoners want to help amazing organisations such as its Air Ambulance and Whizz-Kidz, their incredible work affects us all either directly now or by being there should we need them.


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