Meet the woman who has been working tirelessly over the past 12 months behind the scenes at many UK airports to revolutionise how passengers in wheelchairs are lifted and transferred.

We spent an afternoon with Alison Meadows, Registered Nurse and Manual Handling Trainer and Founder of AMTD – Alison Meadows Training & Development.

Tell us about yourself and what AMTD is?

AMTD is a professional safety training provider based in Blackburn Lancashire. We are a small group of 7 trainers and quality assurers who deliver a range of safety and safeguarding qualifications. We have our own training centre here in Blackburn where we deliver most of our courses although some organisations prefer us to deliver in house.

I started the business as a part time endeavor, and it took me until 2015 to make the leap to full time and I absolutely love what I do.

My expertise is in Moving and Handling qualifications as my background is Nursing. Early into my nursing career I specialised in Orthopaedics and Spinal Injuries, the highlight of which was working in Sydney, Australia as a Sister on a Spinal Injuries Unit.  I became a teacher in 2012 following a BA Hons in Business so it was a natural progression to join all the strands of my working life into AMTD.

What has brought you to deliver moving and handling training from healthcare into the aviation industry?

Rob Shaloe, CEO of QNUK the Awarding Organisation I am an accredited centre with, had been approached by Wilson James the service providers at Heathrow and Gatwick. QNUK and Wilson James had collaborated on some specific training and they were interested in a Moving and Handling Trainer qualification specific to the Aviation sector to reduce the MSDs of their handlers and improve the passenger experience. Despite this sector providing a huge amount of manual handling to sometimes quite vulnerable passengers, no specific qualification actually existed! Following a meeting at Gatwick between Rob, myself and the 2 trainers who were shortly to retire, we decided to create an Aviation specific Moving and Handling Trainers qualification. That was February of 2020 and I was uncertain how much time I would have available to undertake this huge task and then COVID hit and suddenly I had lots of time!

What would good practice of moving and handling look like to you across the aviation industry? And particularly now we live in a COVID-19 world where physically touching is minimal.

I have a clear understanding of what moving and handling across the Aviation sector should look like now! Following extensive research, it became apparent that the traditional top and tail lift was the default method of transferring passengers from their own wheelchairs to the aisle chair and then again from the aisle chair to the aircraft seat. This move has been labelled as a high risk move for many years in the health and social care sector. It might understandably be carried out by paramedics in an emergency situation but why would this be required for travel? Often the flight is part of the holiday experience and being lifted in a way that poses risks to both the handler and passenger is just completely unnecessary! I have introduced some small pieces of equipment to facilitate lateral moves across the seating and trailed this at the ‘Try before you fly’ in Leeds before delivering this at Gatwick on the first QNUK Level 3 Award for Moving and Handling Trainers (Aviation) in July 2020

What are your thoughts on what wheelchair passengers have to go through just to get on and off an aircraft? And how did you become aware of this process?

A mobile passenger is unlikely to ever witness the lack of dignity afforded to a wheelchair user boarding an aircraft as they are boarded first and disembark last. So, I was quite horrified at the demonstrations I received in the early part of my research at Gatwick and was told that this is ‘the only way’ it can be done. Further research and contacts I made during the research stage supported my initial findings. There was a systemic acceptance of back pain and MSD injuries amongst the handlers in a similar way to Nurses in the 1980’s. There was an avoidance of certain ‘jobs’ within the handlers working day that required a full lift into an aircraft seat and there was a huge list of common injuries sustained by the passengers in addition to the lack of dignity of a full body lift.

As a moving and handling expert, would you encourage wheelchair users who are going to be travelling where lifting may be required to purchase their own transferring equipment rather than being physically lifted and if so, why?

The QNUK level 3 Award for Moving and Handling Trainers Aviation does not include a full body lift as part of the transfer of passengers section. Wherever I deliver this course I will be looking to instill a cultural shift away from the full body lift to a lateral transfer. For some passengers, facilitation of a lateral transfer will require having a sling fitted. If passengers arrive at the aircraft with a sling already insitu that is the right size and shape for their needs, this will result in better outcomes for their transfer to the aisle chair and aircraft seat. I would still be training a lateral transfer but using the sling to manoeuvre the passenger and not actually touching the passenger at all.

In airports where they have not received up to date safe training and are using the full body lift, having a sling in place will result in better outcomes for the passenger if not the handler.

Can you tell us why you have decided to partner with Able Move?

The work I have done so far with Able Move has been ground breaking and will improve the experience for every passenger that is transferred in an airport onto an aircraft that has our equipment. I have never before been involved in product development and am immensely proud of my contributions.