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Ambulance services in London and Great Britain from 1860 until today: a glimpse of history gleaned mainly from the pages of contemporary journals
  1. Alexander Pollock
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alexander Pollock, University of Glasgow, Centre for the History of Medicine, Lilybank House, Bute Gardens, Glasgow G12 8 RT, UK; sandy.pollock{at}


Little has been published on the subject of civil ambulance services and their development from the mid-19th century in the UK until modern times. There is limited secondary literature available which provides useful background information on the subject and most organisations may give brief histories of their early days but these sources lack historical adequacy in terms of detail. This article shows part of the uncertain path which the history followed towards the service which we enjoy today. From the pages of the British Medical Journal and the Lancet and Hansard, the battle to set up the service is followed and an indication of the drivers towards change over the period is revealed in the attitudes expressed. In particular, the two World Wars are seen to be the stepwise stimuli to providing a necessary service to the British population where the will to achieve this had hitherto been lacking at a parliamentary level. The history of the London Ambulance Service is chosen because more is written about it in these journals but services in other British cities and the USA are mentioned since they played a part in influencing change.

  • Basic ambulance care
  • prehospital care
  • emergency ambulance systems
  • major incident/planning
  • paramedics
  • critical care transport
  • remote and rural medicine

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.