What do you need to think about before repatriation by ambulance?

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A more cost-effective option for repatriation is through ground ambulances, not air ambulances.  However, when organising such a trip, it is important to check the patient’s health. Is this the best way for them to travel? Are they strong enough to cope with the long journey? How critical is it to get the patient back home?

What do you need to think about before repatriation by ambulance?

Other factors that we need to take into consideration include the following:

Poor road conditions

What happens in the event of a traffic jam, road closure or any other problem? There’s always a risk of getting stuck in a traffic jam. If a road is closed, for whatever reason, there is usually an alternative route, but this will involve extra time. In the worst-case scenario, the exact situation we are trying to avoid could occur: in the event of complications, the patient will have to be taken to a local hospital. Depending on the country you are in, the quality of emergency medical care cannot be guaranteed. 


What happens if the ambulance is involved in an accident abroad ? At best, an accident abroad means having to communicate with the local police, contact insurance companies and, of course, wait for the ambulance to be repaired. Abroad, it is not usually possible to provide a similar replacement ambulance at short notice. Also, if the patient is injured in the accident, they could end up in a local hospital, which would mean a delay to their repatriation


Ambulance drivers also have to stick to statutory driving and rest periods, which significantly increases the length of trip - and the time the patient has to wait. The driver and medical staff will need toilet breaks, rest periods, time to eat. The patient will need the same! The ambulance will have to stop regularly at service stations for the patient to get out and visit the loo or eat a meal, which may be tricky, depending on their condition. 

Driving with blue lights

Many people assume that even during a planned ambulance trip abroad, the ambulance will drive with its blue lights on and sirens blaring, which will speed up the journey. However, this is not the case. For planned patient transport, especially abroad, ambulances are not allowed to use their blue lights . Only in the event of a medical emergency will the team be able to use them, to transport the patient to the nearest hospital. The very common misconception that the patient will be transported across France, for example, with blues and twos, getting through the traffic faster, has nothing to do with reality. 

ground ambulance


The most important question that must be answered before organising emergency medical repatriations is: what will happen if the patient’s condition worsens en route? The ambulance driver might not know the area well and will have to call the local emergency services to get the patient to the hospital. In developed countries with a strong medical infrastructure, such as Spain or France, this may be fine. However,  it’s not generally in the patient’s best interest to go to another foreign hospital – and during a return trip from a less developed country, this would not be ideal, as the patient could end up in a hospital that is poorer than the one that they have just left.

If the cost of a medical flight is a deciding factor for you, seek advice about repatriation from our aviation experts. After considering all issues, such as patient condition, route, and countries along the way, we will work together to find the best solution for the patient.

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Would you prefer patient relocation by ambulance as a cheaper alternative to an air ambulance? Call us at any time or fill in our contact form to receive independent advice. We are available 24/7, and together we will look at other alternatives, such as group repatriation or return flights.

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