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Story: Ambulance services

More than 1,000 people use New Zealand’s ambulance services each day. When the first hospitals were built, most sick or injured people had to get there as best they could – by stretcher, by horse and cart, or by train. The Order of St John set up the first free ambulance in Dunedin in 1892. In the 2000s there were road and air ambulances with highly trained staff.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Rescue helicopter

Story Summary

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Early hospitals

New Zealand’s first hospitals were built in the mid-19th century. Sick or injured people had to get themselves to hospital – by horse and cart, or train. A few hospitals had their own horse-drawn ambulances, but patients had to pay for transport and for medical care.

St John ambulance

The Order of St John ran the first free ambulance service, in Dunedin in 1892. St John set up ambulance brigades around the country, run by volunteers. In the 2000s it still provided most of New Zealand’s ambulance services.

20th-century developments

After the First World War the Defence Department lent wartime field ambulances to hospital boards. Motorised ambulances arrived in the 1920s.

Wellington Free Ambulance was set up in 1927 with the help of the city’s mayor, Charles Norwood. Because he owned a car assembly plant, he donated vehicles.

Calling the ambulance

Before telephone exchanges were automated, people would ask the operator to put them through to the ambulance service. The 111 number for calling emergency services began in Masterton in 1958, and then spread to the rest of the country.

Air ambulances

From the 1950s aeroplanes took patients from remote areas to hospital. Later, helicopters were used – they can land in difficult terrain, and can get a patient to hospital much faster than a road ambulance.

Ambulances in the 2000s

In the past, ambulances were just used to take patients to hospital. In the 2000s they are the first line of medical treatment in an emergency. About 1,100 people use ambulance services every day.

Staff

Early ambulances often had drivers without first-aid training. In the 2000s all ambulance staff are highly trained. Some staff have paramedic training, and can use a wider range of treatments.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Ambulance services', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ambulance-services (accessed 25 February 2018)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 11 Mar 2010