The top 5 questions about road ambulance repatriations

People sometimes get a little confused about repatriations by road ambulance. Aren’t ambulances designed for inner-city emergencies? Why would you use one for an international medical transport? Are they even capable of travelling that far?

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These are all good questions, and the quick answer is that an international road ambulance isn’t the same thing as a regular ambulance (that is, the familiar blue-light vehicles that serve our domestic hospitals).

Repatriation ambulances are actually much more advanced in terms of technology, comfort and capability. That’s one of the reasons why they’re a popular choice for families who want to bring a loved one safely back from a foreign holiday home or hospital.

With that in mind, we asked the EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation operations team for the most common questions people ask about our road ambulance service for medical transports. Here are their answers.

1. Why would we hire a road ambulance?

There are a lot of different reasons why people choose road ambulances over other types of repatriation transport. One of the main benefits is that they’re more direct. Air transports inevitably involve several connections and changes (though we can in fact take patients directly to aircraft for onboarding and collection). A road ambulance travels all the way from collection point to destination. Elderly patients, in particular, often find that makes for a more comfortable, less stressful journey. Depending on the route, road ambulances can also work out less expensive than other kinds of transport – in some cases even less than commercial flights with a medical escort.

2. How far can they travel?

A common misconception is that repatriation ambulances can only travel short distances – between cities, say. In truth, they can go much further than that. The average repatriation journey is around 1,600km to 2,500km, though they’re capable of travelling even longer distances. In one case we took a patient all the way from Athens to Aberdeen – a 4,000km, 40-hour trip! We can do this because the vehicles are specifically built for long-distance travel. The ambulances, which are made by Mercedes-Benz, are fitted with air suspension for comfort, and automatic gearboxes to avoid sudden bumps and starts on the road. They’re also equipped with state-of-the-art anti-decubitus mattresses.

3. Is the driver the only other person on board?

No. Every EMS road ambulance transport has an advanced paramedic on board for the whole journey, and often more than one so they can work in shifts. That means your patient will always have a medical expert alongside them to look after their needs, help with toilet breaks, and provide treatment if required during the journey. Does your patient need specialist care for a particular medical issue? We can cater for that. Just explain your needs to our specialists and they’ll tailor the onboard team accordingly. Long-distance road transports will typically have two drivers, too, working in shifts. Keep in mind that we can also take a passenger with us, alongside your patient.

4. How do toilet breaks work?

This is a question that often worries patients and their families. The answer is that we build regular stops into the journey. On average, the ambulance will stop every four hours, or after about 400km, so everyone on board can take a break, stretch their legs if they’re able to, buy refreshments – and go to the lavatory. Service stations are the usual stopping point, but we can stop elsewhere if needed. If your patient needs assistance going to the toilet, the medical team will be on hand to help them.

5. What happens if there’s a medical emergency?

The vast majority of road ambulance transports go smoothly and without incident. But of course the crew needs to be prepared for every eventuality. That’s why our long-distance road ambulances are fitted with intensive-care equipment for in-transit treatment if it’s needed. We carry everything from ventilators and pressure bags to sedatives, oxygen support, intubation and resuscitation aids as standard, and extra specialist equipment if it’s needed. The paramedics on board are trained to deal with emergency situations. In the event that your patient needed intensive care, the team would make contact with the nearest available critical-care facility and deliver them there as quickly as possible. Whatever happens on the journey home, we’ll be there for you.

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