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Who needs Medical Repatriation?

This guide will explore the situations in which medical repatriation is needed and who needs air ambulance services.

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Who really needs medical repatriation?

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Medical repatriation, a process that has been steadily gaining traction, but has been part of the medical sector for quite a long time. While the term has varying definitions and its usage is quite vast, for the purpose of this article, we are going to look at medical repatriation as the process of transporting someone back home for medical treatment

The transportation of people back home dates way back to the World Wars when soldiers had to be sent back home when they were injured during battles after receiving initial treatment. While the technology used back then was not as advanced as the facilities available today, the quintessence of the process was the same. 

In today’s time, medical repatriation is not just restricted for injured soldiers. With developments and inclusivity with regard to healthcare accessibility, nowadays everyone can use medical repatriation services. Whether you are someone who got injured while on holiday, you got Covid-19 while on a business trip abroad or you fell sick with a disease that prevents you from flying commercially, you can be repatriated back home. 

Air ambulance services or life flights are typically leveraged to bring patients back home since they use aircraft that have been optimized to transport patients. They are equipped with the necessary infrastructure to ensure their safety. 

Who really needs medical repatriation services? In sum, life flight can be opted by anyone who needs to fly back home but cannot do so on a commercial flight. Let’s explore the what, how, who and why of medical repatriation. 

medical plane and doctor

What is medical repatriation? 

Medical repatriation is the organized process of transporting someone with a medical deficiency, such as an injury or an illness, back to his home country where he can obtain higher quality medical care/treatment and recover. 

Medical repatriation can be done both over short and long distances. A scenario of a short-distance repatriation would be: You live in Edinburgh but you went to London for a business trip, where you met with an accident. Injuries caused by this accident temporarily incapacitate you, requiring that you remain on complete bed rest. How then do you get back home? For a trip back home with minimal effort and complete safety, you can choose medical repatriation on either an ambulance plane or a ground ambulance. 

The same logic but for longer distances, such as across borders, would also be considered as medical repatriation. For example, you became Covid-19 positive while on holiday in Spain and instead of remaining in isolation in a foreign country, you wish to get back home. You can opt for private planes to get back home. This is an example of medical repatriation carried out over long distances. 

How is medical repatriation carried out? 

Medical repatriation can be carried out on any vehicle that is fitted with the necessary equipment to provide medical care to someone needing medical supervision, assistance or both.

A number of factors determine the type of vehicle required for the medical transfer of a patient. That is why, for maximum optimisation of cost and efficiency, the wisest decision is to deal with a company providing several options when it comes to the means via which the medical repatriation will be conducted. 

The four solutions for medical repatriation are via:

  • Ground ambulances
  • Ambulance helicopters
  • Medical escorts on a commercial flight
  • Ambulance planes

Ground ambulances

This might be the most common way of transporting patients. For quite a long time, ground ambulances were the only options available to patients having to move from one location to another. 

Ground ambulances are the most affordable option for medical transfers from one point to another by land. While effective in some cases, it has its own set of disadvantages and cannot be used in all situations.

What are the limitations of ground ambulances when it comes to medical transfers? 

  • They are restricted to two locations connected by land, which is an issue since Britain is an island. 
  • They are ideal for short distances only 
  • Long distances by ground ambulance take a lot of time, which is more tiring for the patient
  • The process is more taxing for patients
  • Traffic, which is beyond our control, can further increase the duration of the journey
  • The risks of accidents occurring should not be negated

Consequently, ground ambulances are ideal for short-distance transfers within the UK itself, such as to get back home from the hospital after a surgery or an accident. 

Ambulance helicopters

Helicopters are pretty common in the UK airspace and a number of those are used as flying ambulances. 

For the safe transportation of patients, ambulance helicopters come fitted with medical equipment and medical professionals on board. Looking at their benefits and in comparison to ground ambulances, 

  • They are able to transport patients across different locations way more quickly;
  • They do not have to deal with traffic and other such issues
  • They can land directly on hospital roofs
  • They offer added comfort

However, because of their range, they are ideal for short-distance transportation only. For instance, they can be used for transfers within the UK, such as going to the hospital. 

ambulance helicopter

Medical escort

Opting for a medical escort is the cheapest way to fly long-distance under medical supervision. This option allows the patient to travel on a commercial flight but accompanied by a medical professional. The latter makes up for the lack of medical staff on commercial flights. He monitors the patient’s condition throughout the flight and provides emergency treatment in case of complications. 

However, the medical escort option is restricted to patients who are stable enough to fly commercially. Considering that the flight will be done with a commercial airliner, the decision to allow the patient onboard the plane rests with the airline company. This can take one or two days. In some cases, a patient is refused access on a commercial flight because of the risks involved, both to the patient and to other passengers and the cabin crew. It should be noted that there is limited medical equipment on board a commercial plane, so in case of an emergency, the medical escort will not be able to administer proper treatment. 

Air ambulance plane  

Air ambulance planes are the safest and quickest way for patients to travel long distances. These are essentially planes that are fitted like ground ambulances, that is, they contain equipment similar to that in an Intensive Care Unit. Companies like Medical Repatriation UK can provide you with additional equipment depending on your situation. For instance, pediatric incubators can be deployed for the transportation of babies and infants. 

The personnel on air ambulance planes consists of two medical professionals: a doctor and a paramedic. They are going to oversee the patient throughout the flight, to monitor his condition and to provide emergency treatment and care if needed. They have been trained in the aeromedical space, which means that they are expert in administering care mid-air. 

Some additional benefits of air ambulance flights are: 

  • They are private, offering maximum comfort
  • The departure date can be scheduled based on your preference
  • They can reach remote locations and smaller airports
  • They eliminate the waiting time during boarding

Who really needs medical repatriation? 

With air ambulances services being accessible to everyone, the question that comes up next is ‘who benefits from a life flight?” These services are useful to anyone who needs to travel but cannot do so on a commercial flight. Let’s look at who really needs medical repatriation? For whom is this service beneficial?


Part of the risks of going on holidays that is always forgotten is medical emergencies that can happen abroad. Illnesses and injuries abroad are pretty common. While mild ones are not an issue, a serious problem such as a heart attack or a fracture following a fall or an accident can be dangerous. Depending on the extent of the injury, you might not be able to fly back to the UK on a commercial flight. That is why UK travellers are always recommended to take insurance cover including medical repatriation before travelling. 

Business travellers 

The same is applicable for those who travel for business purposes. A medical emergency can happen to anyone and at any time, even if you are travelling abroad for a couple of days only. Cases of medical repatriation for business travellers are not uncommon, which is why it is recommended that business travellers get insured for medical repatriation as well. 

Patients who have travelled abroad for treatment 

Medical tourism has become extremely common in recent years. This is the idea of people travelling abroad for medical treatment. Despite the high-quality care by the NHS, a lot of UK residents travel abroad for experimental procedures only available in certain countries. Since it is not recommended, or even not possible, to fly commercially after certain surgical procedures, they opt for medical repatriation to the UK by air ambulance to get back home after a treatment abroad. 

Covid-19 patients 

Anyone with Covid-19 is unable to board a commercial plane. This is because the airline company will refuse access to anyone who endangers other passengers and their crew. The only option that seems possible to many in that case is to remain in isolation abroad. However, thanks to medical repatriation services, UK residents and citizens with Covid-19 can fly back home either in air ambulances or on private jets, depending on their condition. 

The elderly 

Old age often comes with illnesses, deficiencies and more vulnerabilities in general. While some people are healthy and can manage their daily tasks without any issues, others need assistance even to perform the most mundane task, especially in cases of medical complications. Travelling can be scary, tedious and bewildering. Depending on their condition, travelling alone might be unsafe for old people. Hence, medical repatriation, either on an air ambulance jet or with a medical escort is an appropriate option. 

old patient

Pregnant women

Travelling during your pregnancy involves special precautions to ensure the safety of both the mother and the unborn baby. Those with a normal pregnancy can usually travel up until 36 weeks of their pregnancy. When is medical repatriation needed for pregnant women? If they need to travel after 36 weeks, if their doctor has not given them approval to fly commercially or in case of a complication. Complications might occur at any time, even while they are abroad. In case an expectant mother is abroad, experiences a particular complication and wishes to come back to the UK for their delivery, medical repatriation is the solution.

Mental health patients

Mild mental issues do not prevent you from travelling commercially. In fact, in some cases, having a mental health patient onboard a plane is not a disturbance to anyone. Travelling becomes problematic for mental health patients in cases of severe issues such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease or even severe psychosis. In these cases, these patients have to travel via air ambulances. 

Why do patients come back to the UK? 

After the question “who needs medical repatriation” comes the next most consequential one. “Why opt for medical repatriation?”. Why do UK citizens and residents across the globe choose to disburse money on air ambulance flights and come back to the UK? 

The four major reasons behind medical repatriation for UK citizens and residents are: 

  • The quality of healthcare in the UK
  • Free health services by the NHS
  • Moral support from friends and family
  • Previous medical records and familiar doctor with no language barrier 

Healthcare quality in the UK 

The 2021 Commonwealth Fund report looked at healthcare systems across the globe and revealed that the UK healthcare system is ranked fourth when it comes to its overall performance, following the lead of Norway, the Netherlands and Australia, respectively. The study looked at five indicators to assess the performance of the healthcare systems of 11 developed countries. These are access to care, care process, administrative efficiency, equity and healthcare outcomes. 

It has been proven throughout the years that the UK constantly focuses on health care quality improvement, with the goal of the NHS being to provide health services and high-quality care for all. As such, when upon a medical emergency abroad, British residents and citizens prefer to come back to the UK to benefit from not only the latest tech/ innovations in healthcare but from the expertise of doctors and specialists who are renowned across the globe, especially if they are holidaying in countries with no proper healthcare system in place. 

Free health services by the NHS 

The NHS is a state health service in the UK offering free hospital care to UK residents. These include both outpatient and inpatient services such as

  • Consultation with your GP
  • Scans
  • Treatment in Accident and Emergency (A&E)
  • Minor operations for injuries
  • Surgeries
  • Treatment with a specialist
  • Contraception and sexual health services
  • Maternity services
  • Pediatric services 
  • Chemotheraphy and other cancer treatments
  • And others. 

doctors in the UK

Moreover, those with a disabilty or illness are entitled to a ‘continuing healthcare’ package which offers coverage of the full cost of the patient’s care in their home or care home. This includes both healthcare and personal care such as assistance getting washed. 

In case of a serious disease or injury requiring long-term treatment or recovery, obtaining care in the UK would be more cost-effective than having to disburse on medical treatment abroad. For instance, while Switzerland has a very high-quality healthcare system, it is considered to be one of the most expensive systems in the world, with a simple 15-minute consultation with a GP starting as from above £125. 

Thus, in case of a medical emergency abroad, patients prefer to enjoy the free high-quality services offered by the NHS

Moral support from friends and family 

Several researches have proven that social isolation and loneliness can increase the risks of both mental and physical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and others. Humans, being social creatures, need some form of interaction and connection with others to thrive and survive, even if it is with a few close ones only. 

Being sick requires additional support from your loved ones. Being closer to them offers a form of comfort and reassurance that speeds up the recovery process. The opposite is also true. Being alone when you are sick can increase feelings of anxiety and lengthen the recovery time. That is why patients choose to come back to the UK in case of a medical emergency or sickness abroad. There is nothing pleasant about being alone when you are sick. With their loved ones alongside, patients can rest assured that they will be well taken care of, whether it is in terms of obtaining care or obtaining moral support. 

Previous medical records and familiar doctor with no language barrier

The medical history of a patient is critical in administering efficient treatment and care in the sense that it acts as a guide to the treating doctor. Based on previous visits and treatments, the patient’s medical records will disclose important information about relevant chronic illnesses or prior medical conditions that may have a long-lasting impact on the patient’s health. Moreover, medical records help the doctor with his diagnosis and ensure continuity of care. 

What does the medical history consist of? 

A patient’s medical history may include, but is not limited to, past surgical history, family history social history, allergies, medications, treatments, a complete medical assessment 

These details are often recorded in the patient’s medical records at the hospital or clinic where he usually obtains treatment. As such, in case of a medical emergency, the treating doctor just has to pull out the medical records to have an idea of the patient’s background when starting a particular treatment. 

medical document

However, this is impossible in a foreign country where you have no particular medical record stored at the hospital or clinic. While for some issues, this might not be a problem, in other cases it might lead to a wrong diagnosis or inefficient treatment being administered. In more serious cases, you might be administered certain drugs which you are allergic to

As such, patients prefer to come back to the UK, where they can be taken care of by a familiar doctor who is acquainted with their medical history. 

Another important consideration when visiting a foreign country is the language barrier. Several times, British citizens and residents have to deal with doctors and paramedics who either do not understand English properly or do not speak the language. This communication gap may be crucial since it hinders on the proper relay of information between patient and doctor. This may lead to inaccurate diagnosis, an inefficient treatment being administered, or wrong information on the way to proceed with the treatment. 

As such, British residents prefer to opt for medical repatriation back home to ensure that they are properly looked after, they are not wrongly diagnosed and are given the wrong treatment. 

Why is medical repatriation not possible on commercial flights without a medical escort?  

It is an undeniable fact that flying commercially is considerably cheaper than chartering a private medical flight. However, booking a commercial flight for medical repatriation is often impossible, especially if a medical escort is not involved. Why so? 

Several reasons prevent a patient from boarding an airplane. It is important to note that the fundamental rationale behind these reasons is the safety of the patient. It is to protect the health of the patient and to prevent his situation from deteriorating. 

The reasons why medical repatriation is not possible on a usual commercial flight are:

  • Lack of medical equipment onboard
  • Lack of medical professionals onboard
  • No flight availability
  • The airline’s refusal to have the patient onboard

Lack of medical equipment onboard

A commercial plane is fitted with the usual seats and other facilities that allow passengers to spend the trip in a fairly comfortable way. There are additional tools that would facilitate the task of the pilots and cabin crew. For instance, most airliners have evacuation tools such as flashlights, crash axes, escape ropes or megaphones that will be used in case of an emergency. 

However, when it comes to medical equipment, the cabin crew is pretty limited in terms of what they have on hand. In general terms, an emergency first aid kit is usually available on the plane. These contain the basic items needed to offer first-aid care and treatment. While usually adequate in dealing with mundane emergencies involving healthy passengers, when it comes to passengers with a medical condition, a basic first aid kit is inadequate. 

Commercial planes are not fitted to transport patients, especially over long distances. There is no medical equipment on board to ensure the stability of the patient’s health. 

Lack of medical professionals onboard 

Synonymously with the lack of medical equipment, there is a lack of medical professionals on board commercial flights. The cabin crew is trained to assist passengers so that they have an enjoyable flight. This involves providing excellent customer care to passengers, directing them to their seats and assisting with any difficulties, serving meals and refreshments and catering to their requests. 

They have also been trained to administer first aid care. However, they have neither the expertise nor the experience to administer in-depth care or treatment to patients. Moreover, they have to oversee the hundreds of passengers in the plane, which means that being constantly alongside a particular passenger to oversee their condition, like a medical escort would, is impossible. As such, in case of a medical emergency during the flight, there would be no medical professional to offer proper treatment to the patient. 

No flight availability

The availability of a commercial flight is dependent on the airline company. This means that you have to plan your trip according to the departure dates scheduled by the firm. While some patients are in a stable enough condition to wait for days, or sometimes weeks, for a flight to be available before getting back home, others do not have this luxury. In fact, most of the patients opting for medical repatriation are looking for the fastest way out of the country that they are currently in. They either cannot or do not want to spend a lot of days waiting for a flight to be available. 

sick patient in airplane

It should be noted that in some remote regions with smaller airports, commercial flights cannot even land. In that case, patients have to look for alternative ways, such as travelling long distances by ground to reach another airport to take a flight. 

With air ambulances, this issue is eliminated since some medical jets are smaller than commercial planes and thus are able to land at smaller airports. 

Airline refusal

Airline companies refusing to have passengers on board the plane is not unheard of. In cases of sicknesses and injuries, the airline company may very well refuse to have a patient on board if there is the possibility of the patient’s health deteriorating during the trip. This decision is usually made following a doctor’s certificate that the patient is unfit to fly. That is why in a lot of cases, airline companies request a medical certificate certifying fitness to fly from patients while they are booking a flight. 

In cases of contagious diseases, airline companies are extra careful since the implications are serious and affect more than just the patient. In these cases, the health of other passengers and the cabin crew is at risk. To prevent endangering others on the plane, the airline company will refuse to let you board the plane in case of a serious transmissible disease

The most common and recent example of such a situation is the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering the highly transmissible nature of the virus and its enormous impact on countries across the world, airline companies refuse to have passengers who are tested positive for COVID-19, or even those with a fever, onboard their plane to both protect others and to limit the spread of the disease. 

From where do we conduct medical repatriation? 

Medical emergencies can happen wherever you are across the globe. It does not wait for you to be in a country where there are first-class hospitals or even adequate level quality care. In fact, medical repatriations are most needed in remote or underdeveloped countries where patients struggle to obtain efficient treatment and care. 

Being aware of the demand for air ambulance services in such areas, we do not restrict our services to popular airports or famous touristic destinations only. Medical Repatriation UK provides its air ambulance services to mostly all locations across the globe. As such, wherever you are, even if you are on small territories such as Ascension Island, we will arrange for an air ambulance for you. 

Thus, you can travel freely, whether on business or on holidays, and you can rest assured that our air ambulance will reach you, in the case of a medical emergency. 

Why choose Medical Repatriation UK for your medical repatriation? 

Medical Repatriation UK is an expert air ambulance service provider that offers British residents and citizens unparalleled service and experience when it comes to air ambulance flights and medical repatriation services. Being experts in the field for more than a decade, we have devised a top-of-the-notch service based on customers’ needs and expectations. What are some of the benefits that you can enjoy when booking an air ambulance flight with us? 

State-of-the-art medical equipment 

Not only are Medical Repatriation UK’s air ambulances fitted with the medical equipment necessary to transport patients, but we also make sure that they are state-of-the-art devices, designed to ensure patient safety and comfort at 100%. 

medical equipment on plane

Keeping in line with developments in the world of medicine, we make sure that we have the necessary resources to ensure patients’ safety. For instance, following the COVID-19 pandemic, we deployed special isolation units that allow us to transport even those who have been tested COVID-19 positive. 

In a similar vein, we can tailor our air ambulances to ensure that they are according to the patient’s medical condition. This implies making use of additional equipment or adjusting the cabin pressure for sea-level flights. 

Experienced doctors and paramedics 

Besides the medical equipment on board the plane, Medical Repatriation UK guarantees patients’ safety by assigning medical professionals and paramedics on board the plane. Not only are our doctors qualified to offer treatment and care to patients during a flight, but they are also experienced. They possess the know-how to intervene in case an emergency occurs mid-flight, with the resources available. 

Onboard all of Medical Repatriation UK’s flights are a doctor and a paramedic. Taking it a step further, we deploy specialist doctors according to your medical condition. For instance, when organising patient transportation for children, babies and infants, we make sure to have a pediatrician on board to offer maximum care to little ones. 

Experts in organising medical repatriation

Our long-standing experience in organising air ambulance flights to and from the UK has allowed us to gain unprecedented expertise in the area. We pride ourselves as being experts in the medical repatriation field, enabling us to offer unrivalled first-class service and a number of benefits. These include: 

  • Free consultation sessions
  • Customized air ambulance solution 
  • Tailormade non-binding quotation
  • Bed-to-bed service: ground transportation in both countries
  • An extensive network in the UK aviation industry
  • Agents available round the clock
  • A dedicated agent taking care of your case
  • Worldwide operation
  • Rapid deployment of air ambulance

ambulance plane

Our medical repatriation process: booking a flight

Booking a flight with Medical Repatriation UK is simple and fast. Caring for our patients and their relatives, we have made sure to establish an uncomplicated booking process that is both time-saving and stress-free.

How to book a flight with Medical Repatriation UK: 

  1. Contact us: Get in touch with our agents either via call, text message or the contact form found on our website. Our agents will advise you on the air ambulance solution after listening to your situation and will devise a non-binding quotation.
  2. Review our non-binding quotation: You can take some time to discuss and review our quotation with your loved ones. 
  3. Send us the necessary document: Proceeding forward, we would need certain documents such as your passport and visa, if needed to prepare for the flight. Certain medical documents might also be needed to determine if the patient is fit-to-fly. Our agents will already be working on the organization process once you give the go-ahead. 
  4. Accept our offer and proceed with the payment: The last step involved is to proceed with the payment. This can be done via cash, card or bank transfer. Then you just have to wait for us to pick you up. 

Testimonials from our clients

Our hard work is never in vain. This is proven by the heartwarming testimonials left by our clients. 

“With this email I will thank you for all of your effort that you put in for my father in law. He is now safe in his homeland thanks to your professional planning. As we all knew his circumstances were not great and for him to be taken from the UK to Iran was also complicated. Although, due to the good planning from your side I am pleased to say that everything went well and all of the doctors and ambulance staff were very nice and friendly. Best of all, everyone was prompt with their timings so no delays occurred. Overall I would rate your company a full 5 stars.”

“This is just a short note from me and my mother to say a big "thank you" to you, all the team at Medical Repatriation UK and to the two medics who accompanied my mother home from Germany yesterday. Everything went smoothly and Mum was very glad to get home to UK. You all worked incredibly hard, and we really appreciate it.

I was very impressed by the service you gave to me and to my mother. For me, you helped to make a very difficult situation so much easier - it was good to know that I could discuss my concerns with you and that you took them into account. It was also incredibly helpful that you were able to deal with the care home in Germany on my behalf - my schoolboy German had not prepared me for this situation! It took a weight off my shoulders.

Once again, many thanks from mum and me for all your help.”

“I would like to express explicit praise for the crew and medical team. M and D cared for my wife in an extremely dedicated and professional manner and made the journey as pleasant and comfortable for her as possible. M also provided comprehensive catering.

Also, thanks to the congenial, professional pilots, we felt altogether well looked after on the return journey.”

Contact us to organize your medical repatriation 

If you need an air ambulance flight to or from the UK, you will be in safe hands with Medical Repatriation UK. Our agents are available 24/7 to organise your medical repatriation. Talk to them during a free consultation session and they will do everything needed to ensure the safe patient transport of you or your loved ones.