IT'S been with us for two decades, saving and improving thousands of lives.

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is marking its 20th anniversary.

To celebrate, the charity is launching 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.

Having launched on March 21, 2000, just 52 minutes later the air ambulance was tasked with its 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.

Twenty years on, it has developed beyond recognition. Its 20th anniversary sees it 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's chief executive, Bill Sivewright, 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, whilst 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 past 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 past two years broadening our examination to include areas that, whilst 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."

As part of its '20 Years By Your Side' initiative, an area has been developed on the air ambulance's website which gives detailed information on the history of the charity, 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.

All this information is available by visiting


t: 01305 830818

e: jennifer.mulcahey

twitter: @DorsetEchoJen