HELICOPTERS ferrying seriously ill patients to hospital in Taunton can now land after dark for the first time.

People living near Musgrove Park Hospital who fear their sleep will be disrupted by night-time landings have been reassured incoming flights are only likely to take place around three times a month.

Doctors met neighbours ahead of extending the time the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance service could arrive at Musgrove until 2am. Previously landings were limited to daylights hours.

A hospital spokeswoman said the charity, which runs a vital service for the most ill patients, now has the capacity to fly later at night after buying a new helicopter with more specialist equipment and a consultant physician on board.

She added that about three flights a month would land between 8pm and 2am, most of them before 10pm.

There are no plans to extend landing times to 24 hours a day.

Dr James Gagg, emergency consultant and clinical lead for the emergency department, said: "This is a vital service which can help our most seriously ill patients, such as those who have had a stroke, heart attack or cardiac arrest, where time is of the essence.

"The air ambulance enables critical care paramedics and doctors to be brought to the patient, as well as transporting the patient rapidly to the hospital.

"Extending the hours of the air ambulance means we can help our most critically ill patients have a better chance at survival.

"As a clinician, the thing you want to do more than anything is give your patients the best treatment and the best possible chance of recovery, and this has the potential to make a real difference."

Residents at the meeting with Musgrove bosses raised concerns, including the noise of the helicopter and the time it would wait on the helipad.

The hospital, which agreed to a request to carry out an impact assessment, said the new air ambulance can come down at a steeper angle, which should disturb fewer people.

The majority of patients will have cardiac conditions and will be transferred straight to the cardiology department, where they will immediately receive life-saving treatment from specialist consultants, meaning they can bypass the emergency department.

Air ambulance chief executive Bill Sivewright told the BBC: "This is about patients' lives, and if upsetting someone's sleep at night means someone's life is saved then I just feel that's something we've got to do.

"But I would like to say thank you for the tolerance they (residents) have shown to date."