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About ambulances in Australia

9-minute read

Key facts

  • An ambulance is a vehicle equipped for urgently taking sick or injured people to hospital.
  • There are several types of ambulance, all with special equipment, based on their needs.
  • Ambulance officers are trained as first responders — they know how to stabilise someone who is ill or injured, and get them to hospital urgently.
  • The cost of calling an ambulance, or if someone else orders an ambulance for you, varies between states.
  • Medicare does not cover the cost of ambulance services.

What is an ambulance?

Ambulances are vehicles that transport people needing emergency medical care. Sometimes they also transport people needing non-emergency medical support.

You may need an ambulance to take you to hospital if you are sick or injured, after an accident, or an ambulance may be needed to take you from one hospital to another.

There are several types of ambulance, all specially equipped. Types of ambulances include:


The van is the most common type of ambulance vehicle across Australia. These are used by advanced care paramedics for serious medical emergencies and patient transport officers for non-emergency situations.


Ambulance motorbikes are not able to carry passengers, but can move through traffic faster than an ambulance van, to reach sick or injured people sooner.

Cycle response bikes

Ambulance mountain bikes (also known as pedal bikes, push bikes or bicycles) are used by specially trained and equipped health staff who can quickly respond to an incident by bike.


Ambulance buses can be used at events or for patient transport. Ambulance buses can carry up to 12 people, some seated and some lying on stretchers.

Airplanes and helicopters

Air ambulances and helicopter ambulances are used mainly in rural, remote or wilderness areas and in certain types of emergency situations.

Rescue trucks

In rural areas, specialised vehicles, known as ambulance rescue trucks, are designed to carry equipment needed for difficult rescue situations.

Ambulances can be based at hospitals, clinics, stand-alone centres or airports.

What to expect when I am being transported in an ambulance?

Ambulances contain the equipment for a variety of medical emergency needs. This includes equipment needed to stabilise someone who is ill or injured, and get them to hospital safely.

Examples of equipment include:

  • stretchers
  • automatic external defibrillators (AED)
  • spine boards
  • oxygen and oxygen masks
  • cervical (neck) collars
  • splints and bandages
  • some medicines and intravenous (IV) fluids.

Some ambulances are equipped to allow doctors to give anaesthetics and perform emergency surgery.

Ambulances are staffed by a trained crew. They might be known as first responders, ambulance officers, patient transport officers or referred to with another name. Some ambulance officers, but not all, are paramedics.

All vehicles must have communications equipment to ensure reliable communication between the vehicle and the ambulance base, local hospitals, health services, or other destinations.

What do paramedics do?

A paramedic is a trained health professional who can provide rapid medical assessment and care in accident and emergency situations. They also provide transport, and document your health condition for hospital doctors, if you need further care.

A paramedic can effectively assess, treat, and manage people experiencing:

Paramedics also manage major bleeding and anticipate complications due to injury or accidents, including:

  • head injury
  • abdominal bleeding
  • internal or external trauma, for example major bleeding and wounds

Qualified paramedics are registered with the Paramedicine Board of Australia and their names are included on a public register of practitioners, managed by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Authority (AHPRA).

When should I call for an ambulance?

If you are unsure if someone needs an ambulance, call triple zero (000) and ask the operator.

You should call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance when there is an emergency, such as when someone has had an accident or a health emergency.

Examples of accidents that may require calling an ambulance include:

  • injury from a motor vehicle accident
  • falls from a height
  • stabbing or shooting
  • severe burns
  • heavy or uncontrollable bleeding

Examples of health crises that may require calling an ambulance include:

  • heart attack, chest pain or chest tightness
  • sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg
  • breathing difficulties
  • loss of consciousness or collapse
  • seizure
  • sudden and severe abdominal pain

What should I do if it is not an emergency?

If you or someone else has a non-urgent health problem, such as an infection or chronic illness, consider these options rather than calling an ambulance:

  • Visit a general practitioner.
  • See a pharmacist.
  • Call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for advice from a registered nurse.

What happens when I call an ambulance?

The person who answers your triple zero (000) call will ask you questions to decide whether it is an emergency.

If it is an emergency, they will send an ambulance. They might also give you first aid advice over the phone, so you know what to do until the ambulance arrives. For this reason, it is important that you stay on the phone, unless the operator tells you to hang up. Follow the operator's advice while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.

If the call is not an emergency, the operator may transfer your call to a Healthdirect Australia registered nurse. They will provide you with assistance over the phone, and guide you on what to do next.

Will I always be taken to a hospital?

No, not always. When the ambulance arrives, the ambulance officers or paramedics who attend will assess you. You might be treated on site, or they might decide you need to go to hospital for further tests or treatment. They might also refer you to other healthcare services.

What is the cost of an ambulance?

The charges for an ambulance vary between states.

Some state ambulance services charge a call-out fee, and others charge a per kilometre fee, or both. The costs can be very high in some states.

Ambulance costs may be lower if you:

  • are on a pension or health care card, and in some states, if you are a Department of Veterans Affairs Gold Card holder
  • have private health insurance that includes ambulance cover
  • have an ambulance subscription

To find out more about the fees in your state, visit:

Medicare does not cover ambulance fees. Get more details here about what ambulance services each state covers.

Are there other medical and non-emergency transport schemes?

Non-emergency patient transport schemes also vary between states. Transport to or between hospitals under these schemes may need to be authorised by a doctor, registered nurse or a hospital staff member.

Find out more here about other transport services and patient travel subsidy schemes, and check with your local health department.

Resources and support

If you are unsure if someone needs an ambulance, call triple zero (000) and ask the operator.

If you think you or your child has swallowed a poison, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

If you or someone else has a non-urgent health problem, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you have symptoms that are not urgent, and you aren't sure what to do next, use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention. The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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