©Wellcome Photo Library

The first helicopter rescue system was established in the United States at Denver in 1972, and named the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS). Within 20 years, there were over 130 such services in America. These helicopters did not carry doctors but took flight nurses trained to give anaesthetics. France and Germany also established helicopter rescue services. In Britain, apart from air-sea rescue by the armed forces, helicopter ambulances did not become widely available until the early 1990s when services were set up in Cornwall, Kent, Northumberland, and Scotland. In London, 2 services operated directly from hospitals - ‘Careflight', based at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and HEMS at the Royal London Hospital. These were the only helicopters in Britain which carried doctors, and both relied on charity funding. The HEMS was financed jointly by the Department of Health and Express Newspapers and was set up as a trauma-only service. It flies from the roof of the London Hospital to any location within a 50-mile radius of central London. The stated aim of the HEMS is ‘to deliver the hospital to the roadside'.