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J Public Health Med. 1996 Mar;18(1):67-77.

The costs and benefits of helicopter emergency ambulance services in England and Wales.

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Medical Care Research Unit, University of Sheffield.



Following the introduction of Helicopter Emergency Ambulance Services (HEAS) in the United Kingdom in the last ten years this paper examines the costs and benefits of three contrasting services in Cornwall, London and Sussex.


Pre-hospital processes of care were compared between helicopter attended patients and land ambulance patients in all three studies, and health outcomes were compared between helicopter and land ambulance patients in the Cornwall and London studies. A review of the literature on the benefits of HEAS has also been undertaken.


There were no improvements in response times and the time on scene was longer for helicopter attended patients. Survival of trauma or cardiac patients attended by helicopter was not improved. In London there was some evidence of worse residual disability in helicopter attended survivors, but in Cornwall residual disability was better in helicopter attended patients. There was no improvement in general health status or aspects of daily living in the helicopter attended patients. The overall total operational costs for these services were [symbol: see text] 55 000 p.a. in Sussex, [symbol: see text] 600 000 in Cornwall and [symbol: see text] 1.2 million in London.


The analysis suggests that Helicopter Emergency Ambulance Services are costly, the health benefits are small, and there are limited circumstances in which the pre-hospital performance of an ambulance service in England and Wales can be improved.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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