Behind the scenes of Helicopter ER

Helicopter ER is now in its fifth series, providing an insight into the vital work of the YAA and accompanying the crew on all of our life-saving missions. Keeping the camera rolling on board the air ambulance is York based Production Company, Air TV.

We caught up with Holly Pywell, Production Manager at Air TV to see what it’s like working behind the scenes on our hit TV show.

What training do you need to have to accompany our aircrew?

Anyone who films on board the air ambulance has to undergo the same aviation training as the HEMS paramedics to become a Technical Crew Member (TCM). Technical Crew Members are trained to refuel and operate navigational systems on board the aircraft so that if all the crew are required to deal with a medical emergency, our camera operators can jump in the front left hand seat and assist the pilot. All aircrew camera operators are subject to a regular line check with the pilot to refresh our knowledge, much like the paramedics on board.

How do you get consent to film patients at the scene of an incident?

As soon as we arrive on scene, and if it’s appropriate (dependent on what condition the patient is in) we will try to let the patient know what we are doing and ask them if it’s okay to continue filming. We will then record their name and contact details, often speaking to any relatives or friends who are on scene. Weeks later when the patients are hopefully feeling better, we will contact them again and arrange to visit them to talk about the programme and ask for their written and fully informed consent to feature on the show. Depending on how fit the patient is and whether they are emotionally capable of making the decision, it can sometimes be a number of years until the incident is on TV.

What do you have to consider when filming an incident?

We need to consider how different people may interpret the footage and how distressing a particular incident may be for the patient, their families and our viewers. We don’t want to upset any of the patients, and it’s vital our filming doesn’t hinder or delay the work of the air ambulance crew in any way. We are very aware that the work of the doctors, paramedics and pilots is far more important than a television show.

What are the hardest incidents to film?

The hardest incidents will depend on who’s filming and how they can relate to the incident. They are often harder if you can relate to being in that situation. For example, if you have children of your own and you’re filming an incident involving a child. If we got upset by every job we to go to, same as a Paramedic, we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs.  When we attend particularly upsetting incidents, we debrief with the crew and we talk about it.  It’s important to recognise when something has affected you. I’m the mental health first aider at Air TV and we are also trained in dealing with trauma.

Are the majority of people happy to be filmed?

The majority of people we film are happy to appear on the TV show. Usually if they don’t want to be filmed we are told on the day. Most people see it as a great way of supporting the Charity – they know their story can contribute to helping the YAA publicise just how important the work they do is.

How much work goes into a patient’s story?

There are so many hours that go into creating just one patient story and making sure that the patient is happy with the final product. From the day we film the incident, there will be lots of hours talking to the patient, meeting the patient and checking to see if they are happy for the clip to be featured. Once they give consent, the footage goes into the initial editing phase, then the online edit and then through to compliance checking. During the compliance process, we will go through every frame, watching each patient’s clip several times and taking their feedback on board. The patient will always be at the forefront of our minds throughout the editing process, and we always put their thoughts and feelings first.

What’s the best bit about working at Air TV?

I love flying in the helicopters. When I was sixteen Helicopter Heroes (the programme before Helicopter ER) was my favourite programme and I would tune into the BBC at 9.15am to watch it. When Air TV found me through work experience, I was so happy to be working on one of my favourite programmes.

It’s also great to be working on a show that has a real benefit in raising the profile of air ambulance charities in the UK and in turn helps to keep them flying.

For me, it’s a dream come true to be flying with some of the best doctors and paramedics in the UK.

Helicopter ER is on Channel Really at 9PM every Monday, to catch up on any missed episodes please visit: