THE county's life-saving air ambulance service is now providing round-the-clock cover for the first time in its 21-year history.

Bosses say the new 24/7 service is a major breakthrough and will help save more lives in Essex, Herts and the surrounding area.

It was launched on Monday after months of planning.

The move means the charity can provide care to critically ill patients at any time of the day.

Helicopters based at Earls Colne, in Essex, and North Weald, in Hertfordshire, will operate from 7am to 8pm.

Rapid response vehicles based at North Weald will be used for night-time incident between 7.30pm and 7.30am.

They are also used during daylight hours if extreme weather conditions mean it is too dangerous for the helicopters to fly.

Like the air ambulances they carry a doctor and critical care paramedic, and are equipped with the same life-saving equipment.

Clinical director Stuart Elms said: “We are very excited to be starting 24/7 operations after a lot of hard work from everyone in the charity and the East of England Ambulance Service.

“There was an intensive recruitment phase to obtain the necessary number of pre-hospital care doctors and critical care paramedics to give us the numbers and the resilience to safely work 24/7.

“At night we will still be tasked to the same kinds of calls that we would do during the day.

"We will have exactly the same equipment and highly skilled team bringing the hospital to the patient.

“Patient care and the safety of the team when responding in the hours of darkness are very important.

"Working on scene at night can be very technically demanding so we are giving our teams the training and equipment they require to work safely."