Coronavirus patients can now be rushed to hospital by air ambulance.

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance's helicopter is now fully prepared to treat and transport patients by air.

The change for the charity has come about following new guidance issued by Public Health England (PHE).

Risk assessments have been carried out and the helicopter's flight deck has been isolated from the cabin with a barrier. An air flow separation procedure is in place and standard operating procedures have been approved.

Previous guidance specifically excluded the transportation of known or suspected Covid-19 patients in air ambulances across England.

Up until now, those suspected or confirmed with the virus have been taken to hospital by road, accompanied by the air ambulance's critical care team, which has remained operational for 19 hours a day during the lockdown.

Bill Sivewright, the air ambulance's chief executive, welcomed the change.

He said: “By working very closely with our NHS colleagues, we have been able to ensure that we operate safely and in a prescribed manner at all times.

"This change in guidance will enable us to treat and/or convey every patient according to their needs, and not limited by Covid-19 concerns.

“Everything we do at Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is patient focused and the pandemic has not changed that."

Mr Sivewright said in this current time of crisis patients need the air ambulance to 'step forward'.

He added: "We could not have achieved this without our remarkable team, both clinicians and aircrew, who have been putting themselves in harm’s way, fully aware of the dangers. Their selfless dedication to caring for patients has been humbling to witness and I am extremely proud of them."

The crucial change has come about after the air ambulance's intensive work with Public Health England, Specialist Aviation Services (and through them, the Civil Aviation Authority) and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust to develop new guidance for transporting coronavirus patients.

The air ambulance critical care team has remained operational for 19 hours a day across the region throughout the pandemic and has been transporting patients without symptoms of Covid-19 by air where necessary.