THE vital lifesaving work of Britain’s air ambulance charities is to be given a higher profile in the corridors of power in a new initiative championed by a North East MP.
Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman has set up the first-ever all-party parliamentary group to support air ambulances, and officially represent the interests of the service in Parliament.
Mr Opperman is to chair the group, which already has 30 MPs registered as members and will hold its first meeting in the House of Commons later this month.
Berwick Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith and MP Dave Anderson, Labour, Blaydon, are among MPs from across the country who have joined the new group.
It aims to support the work of the UK’s 18 air ambulance charities – including the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) – which between them fly 29 helicopters for their local communities.
The group will also campaign on various issues affecting the service, including VAT on fuel and the need for increased Department of Health capital investment in helicopter landing pads close to major trauma centres.
The Association of Air Ambulances, which represents the 18 charities, will act as secretariat to the all-party group.
Yesterday Mr Opperman said: “Air ambulances provide a vital lifeline to rural areas like ours. I’m so pleased that so many of my colleagues in the House of Commons have agreed to support the group, and it’s a privilege to be its chairman.
“The air ambulance can literally be the difference between life and death, and I hope this group will help represent the interests of this vital service in Parliament.
“As we wait for the outcome of the review of VAT, I hope we can also keep on demonstrating that there is genuine cross-party support to help cut the fuel bills the air ambulance faces.”
Earlier this year Mr Opperman secured a Commons debate on the future of the air ambulance service, which also called on MPs to support the work and actions of the service nationally, and its individual crew members and staff. He has been one of the MPs pressing for a solution to the problem of air ambulances having to pay VAT on fuel, which is a huge cost to some of the charities.
Last year he helped organise a quiz night for the GNAAS, and also raised funds for the charity this summer on a 21-day trek across the Pennine Way.
Yesterday Clive Dickin, national director of the Association of Air Ambulances, said he hoped the new Parliamentary group would help tackle issues such as VAT on fuel and calls for more investment in helipads at major hospitals where air ambulances fly in accident victims.
He added: “This new group is an absolutely essential part of that and we are so pleased that Guy Opperman is championing it.”