An analysis of patients transported by a private helicopter emergency medical service in South Africa

Dagmar Muhlbauer, Raveen Naidoo, Timothy C Hardcastle


Background. A helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) is a specialist flying emergency service where on-board medical personnel have both the knowledge and equipment to perform complicated medical procedures. The paucity of literature describing the types of patients flown by HEMS in South Africa (SA) and their clinical outcome poses a challenge for current aeromedical services, as there is no baseline information on which to base flight criteria, staffing and policy documents. This has the potential to hamper the advancement of HEMS in SA.

Objectives. To undertake a descriptive analysis of patients flown by the Netcare 911 HEMS over a 12-month period in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provinces, SA, and to assess patient outcomes. The clinical demographics of patients transported by the HEMS were analysed, time frames from dispatch of the helicopter to delivery of the patient to the receiving hospital determined, and patient outcomes at 24 hours and 72 hours analysed.

Methods. The study utilised a retrospective quantitative, descriptive design to analyse patients transported by a private HEMS in SA. All complete records of patients transported by the Netcare 911 HEMS between 1 January and 31 December 2011 were included.

Results. The final study population comprised 537 cases, as 10 cases had to be excluded owing to incomplete documentation. Of the 537 cases, 82 (15.3%) were managed by the KZN HEMS and 455 (84.7%) by the Gauteng HEMS. Adult males were the patients most commonly flown in both Gauteng and KZN (350/455 patients (76.9%) in Gauteng and 48/82 (58.5%) in KZN were males, and 364/455 patients (80.0%) in Gauteng and 73/82 (89.0%) in KZN were adults). Motor vehicle collisions were the most common incidents necessitating transport by HEMS in both operations (n=193, 35.9%). At the 24-hour follow-up, 339 patients (63.1%) were alive and stable, and at the 72-hour follow-up, 404 (75.3%) were alive and stable.

Conclusion. The study findings provided valuable information that may have an impact on the current staffing and authorisation criteria of SA HEMS operations.

Authors' affiliations

Dagmar Muhlbauer, Department of Emergency Medical Care and Rescue, Durban University of Technology, South Africa

Raveen Naidoo, Department of Emergency Medical Care and Rescue, Durban University of Technology, South Africa

Timothy C Hardcastle, Department of Surgery, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital and College of Health Sciences, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Full Text

PDF (267KB)


Prehospital; Helicopter emergency medical service

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2016;106(2):201-205. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i2.9919

Article History

Date submitted: 2015-07-31
Date published: 2016-01-12

Article Views

Abstract views: 2400
Full text views: 1057

Comments on this article

*Read our policy for posting comments here