REGA: 24 hours a day; 365 days a year!
By Dr Michelle Wright, MBChB MRCGP
I was able to see the chain of communication and medical care from start to finish...
A few years ago, I had the privilege of spending a day “on the job” with the crew of a Rega helicopter. Rega is Switzerland’s primary air rescue organisation, operational around the clock, every day of the year, providing medical assistance where it is most needed. Approximately 11,000 helicopter missions are organized by Rega yearly - and in the snow sports season their winter call-out peak starts again.
Founded in 1952, this privately run, not-for-profit organisation is supported and funded solely by its patrons.
The 12 Rega bases, including eight mountain locations, mean that experienced and highly-trained teams of pilots, doctors, paramedics and mountain guides can reach people in need across Switzerland with minimum delay - whether it be a mountain peak or a motorway on the valley floor.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just mountain rescue operations that Rega carry out. They are at the scene of serious road traffic accidents to ensure rapid transportation to hospital, often saving precious life or death minutes. They also assist in workplace accidents – on farms, building sites and factories – and when heart attacks and other serious illnesses necessitate prompt transfer to specialised treatment centres. If a baby is born prematurely, Rega can ensure safe transportation to paediatric intensive care facilities. They also carry urgent blood, organs and medication from one hospital to another. Cow emergency? Rega even helps injured mountain cattle!
As well as its helicopters, the Rega fleet also comprises three air ambulances, stationed at Zurich airport. Each year, these “flying intensive care units” repatriate 800 patients back to Switzerland if they have been taken ill, or have been injured, abroad.
HOW DO YOU CONTACT REGA?
If you are injured or unwell in Switzerland and know that you are somewhere difficult to access, or that the approach route is too long for ground rescue services to reach you quickly, then you should call Rega directly using their emergency number: 1414. Rega advises that, wherever possible, calls should be made using the Rega app. As well as allowing you to raise the alarm, this free mobile app for iPhone and Android, transmits your exact location to the Rega Operations Centre – and can be used both within Switzerland and from abroad.
On the day that I spent flying with Rega, I was so impressed by their efficient teamwork and obvious professional skills – both those of the pilot (and his ability to fly and land the helicopter in challenging circumstances) and also the medical skills of the doctor and paramedic on-board. I was able to see the chain of communication and medical care from start to finish: how the crew receive the information from an emergency call, mobilise with specialised equipment, finishing with the safe delivery of the injured/unwell person to hospital for further care and treatment. The team was calm and cool headed, keeping the safety and health of the patient paramount – something that, as a doctor and First Aid trainer, I know is vitally important to increase a person’s chances of survival and full recovery.
HOW DO YOU BECOME A REGA PATRON?
Visit Rega.ch. As a keen skier I personally support Rega. It gives me great peace of mind to know that in the event of an injury to someone in my party, or perhaps even to me, after initial First Aid is given, we can make a call to this highly qualified and professional organisation and rely on hearing those thudding blades, seeing those red jump suits and getting the help that we need. It’s only thanks to the support of our community that Rega can continue to fly to the rescue.
Please note that Dr Michelle Wright does not receive any personal or professional funding from Rega.
Dr Michelle Wright is a British-trained General Practitioner and one of the Medical Directors of HealthFirst, delivering First Aid Training and Health Education in English throughout Switzerland. Michelle also works as a doctor in the Staff Medical Service of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva and is a medical writer and journalist.