Skip to main content
Press release
Thursday 12 January 2023

Southampton Oxford Neonatal Transport service and national charity introduce England's first helicopter incubator for critically ill babies

Clinicians from University Hospital Southampton (UHS) have helped to design England’s first helicopter incubator which will help to transport critically ill babies in need of specialist care.

The pioneering Children’s Air Ambulance (TCAA) has introduced the incubator on a rotary-wing aircraft to assist specialist NHS transport teams during lifesaving flights.

The clinicians, who are part of the Southampton Oxford Neonatal Transport service (SONeT), were the first team to use the new incubators for two vital transfers in the South.

SONeT is a collaboration between the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in Oxford and Southampton. The service provides emergency neonatal retrievals, planned transfers and repatriations in the Thames Valley and Wessex Neonatal Network.

The TCAA provides the only intensive care aircraft in the country dedicated to transferring critically ill babies and children, at a high and safe speed, from local hospitals to specialist paediatric and neonatal treatment centres.

An incubator is an apparatus used to maintain environmental conditions suitable for a newborn baby and is used in preterm birth or for some ill full-term babies. The ability to maintain the temperature, humidity and oxygen levels provides a safe environment for the young patient.

The new and bespoke TCAA Neonatal Transport Systems have been designed with input from SONeT to ensure they are able to provide outstanding care in the air.

Speaking on behalf of SONeT, Dr Sarah Davidson, neonatal consultant at University Hospital Southampton and SONeT Wessex lead said: "It has been an absolute pleasure to be part of the design team for the new flight incubator which has incorporated years of clinical experience with specialist engineering to produce a safe, first-rate and high functioning transport system.  

“A lot of time has gone into making this a safe way to transport even our sickest patients, ensuring they have access to intensive care equipment and therapies whilst they are travelling to the specialist centre."  

“The incubator system will allow SONeT to move patients who were previously too small or needed additional support and we are very pleased to say we have already been able to fly using the new incubator and this was a patient who previously would not have been able to be flown to us for specialist care."

“Working with TCAA provides so many benefits including reduced transfer times, reaching patients more quickly to deliver expert care and treatment at the scene, bringing babies closer to home when a mother delivers in another part of England, moving patients as an emergency to specialist neonatal units and repatriating them back to local units."

“We look forward to continuing to partner with the TCAA to provide the best possible care for our babies and their families and make sure they get the care they need safely and as soon as possible.”

Alfie Daly, Head of Operations for the Children’s Air Ambulance said; “I am delighted that we have now introduced our bespoke Neonatal Transport Systems so we can transfer neonatal patients and support the great team at SONeT to provide the best possible care. A tremendous amount of work has gone into this project which is fundamentally based on NHS clinicians’ requirements to ensure they have everything they need to provide the best possible patient care. It’s a huge achievement for the Children’s Air Ambulance and a lifesaving piece of equipment.”

To find out more about the work of the Children's Air Ambulance, visit their website here.