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South Thames Retrieval Service

020 7188 5000          

24 hour emergency referrals

Alternative emergency number: 020 7803 9160


The South Thames Retrieval Service (STRS) is an intensive care service, transporting critically ill children from local hospitals to intensive care units (PICUs).

South Thames Retrieval Service for children logoOur team is made up of doctors and nurses from our intensive care unit who are specially trained in stabilising and transferring critically ill children. The team give advice to staff at district general hospitals before their arrival to retrieve a child. They then provide intensive care to the child before they leave hospital, while they are travelling in an ambulance, helicopter or plane and when they are settling in to a PICU.

Two teams are available to transport children 24 hours, 7 days a week. When they are not transporting children, the team are working within our intensive care unit.

You can find out more about what we do and the care we provide in our intensive care unit by watching this short film produced by The Guardian.

The team who save the sickest babies – video transcript

Dr Ranj Singh, intensive care doctor: So the intensive care will look after the sickest children in the region, not just in the hospital, not just in the local area but in the entire region. You can easily get affected by how unwell the children around you are. How fragile they are sometimes and you know there are occasions when it's life or death decisions being made, their life is in the balance. But you have to develop a bit of detachment sometimes to be able to cope with it, or otherwise it would be an incredibly difficult job to do, and it's not a difficult job, it's a wonderful job to do.

Dr Matt Edwards, clinical fellow: I'm on the retrieval team today, we’ve got two teams every day. We basically retrieve children from district general hospitals all around the area from south of England, Kent, Surrey and Sussex basically, because not every hospital has a paediatric intensive care. So this is our baby pack. You've got to make sure that it's all functioning well because the last thing you want is for this not to be working when you're next to a patient. I'll go and deliver this to Ben. When are you going?

Ben: At 11.

Dr Matt: Well this one's free for you to use whenever you need it.

Dr Ranj: So Zachary is three months old and he was born with a complex congenital heart condition and he has just had surgery a few days ago. Sometimes when these children have heart surgery they come back on a ventilator because they aren't quite ready to breathe for themselves or their lungs may not be strong enough.

Jane Sivyer, senior play specialist: You imagine waking up with this tube in your mouth, not knowing where you are or what's happening. It's just really frightening and that is really like the story of nightmares so it's really, really important to give them play to make them feel secure, comforted and to help them recover.

Dr Ranj: Over time what we do is try and reduce the support that the ventilator gives to a point where we can take them off that machine, and that's a process called extubation, where we take that breathing tube out of their mouth.

Jane: When all this is going on parents almost feel like they've been hit by a bus, and they can't explain how they feel. And I introduce the diary so the parents can write down what happens on a daily basis.

Mum: It's good to have this so that we know when he gets older he'll be able to look back on it and know how we were feeling at the time that he was going through it. So this was two days after the operation and also people have been sending through text messages.

Jane: When they first come here they're just staring at the machines all the time. You know and they won't go for breaks and we say oh come on, you know, everything's going to be fine let's try and do something.

Dawn Knight, retrieval nurse practitioner: We spend most of our time being human. You know, having human relationships with people, helping looking after the most precious child of a family, and I think that's a huge privilege.

Dr Ranj [to mum]: Originally they thought there was an infection. Once she gets over this chest infection the plan is then to fix that pipe and hopefully everything should get better after that. And make sure you get some rest as well, because she's resting, she's sleeping, but it's very important that you get some rest too.

Dr Ben Griffiths, intensive care doctor: So Sophie joined us in December shortly after she was born. She was born with hyperplastic left heart syndrome so one side of her heart hadn't formed properly. She doesn't need any help with her breathing anymore, we're just giving her some support with some medication to still support the heart.

Dad: They say she is better so we are better as well.

Dr Shelley Riphagen, intensive care consultant: It's called intensive care, so you are supposed to work intensively. You can change 100% mortality to, you know, four percent or less mortality. Children are getting better and going to the wards.

Dad: So this is Zachary's twin sister.

Dr Shelley: What we often have is families will send us pictures of the children when they've gone home and actually there'll be Zachary and his sister in a month's time you know lying together and playing together and you know that's what we all aim for.

Dad: It's amazing, I mean it sounds like he's going to do well.

Dr Ranj: I love the fact that we can help whole families, not just children. I love the fact the children are so resilient that they most of them will get better. No matter how small the difference we make in their lives it's important. It's such a satisfying speciality to work in, it's such a satisfying field to work in. And it's so exciting, and so interesting that I couldn't work in any other job.

Quick links for professionals


Emergency referrals - for professionals only.

Tel: 020 7188 5000

Alternative emergency 

Tel: 020 7803 9160

Children’s Intensive Care Unit (PICU) – general enquiries.

Tel: 020 7188 4500 / 4501

We also transport children to other intensive care units (PICUs) at hospitals in the South Thames region. Please see the intensive care unit patients page for contact details.

©  Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.
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