Background: Helicopter air ambulance crews are influenced in their selection of the destination hospital for their patients by several factors including: distance from the scene; facilities, on site specialties, and senior cover of the receiving hospital; and the proximity of the helicopter landing area to the emergency department (ED). Only a limited number of hospitals have landing sites adjacent to the ED from which patients can be taken directly into the department (primary landing sites). Helicopter crews will often elect to over fly hospitals that do not have primary landing sites because secondary land transfers will add delays in delivering patients. Birmingham Heartlands Hospital has an elevated helideck adjacent to the ED. In October 2003, the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance (WNAA) service was launched; the hospital sits on the western periphery of the area served by the service.
Methods: Prospective data was collated on all patients brought by WNAA to Heartlands Hospital between 1 October 2003 and 31 August 2004.
Results: In the 10 month period after the launch of the service, the helicopter delivered 83 patients to the ED; 74 of these were "off patch". This additional workload generated 163 ward days, 19 operative procedures, and 85 intensive care unit, high dependency unit, or coronary care unit days. The direct costs of this additional workload approached £160 000.
Conclusions: In future discussions on the cost effectiveness of air ambulances, it will be important to consider both the direct and indirect costs to the receiving hospitals arising from the redistribution of emergency workload.
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Competing interests: none declared
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