Hermes class medical variant. Designed as a first-responder starship for medical emergencies and disaster response co-ordinator; the Thunderbird 1 of starships. Class named for the Royal Navy hydrographical ship used as a hospital ship in the Falklands War - see image on the left.
The shipyards wanted to expand their order books beyond the original orders of Hermes class scouts and Saladin class destroyers. With the Federation expanding rapidly during this period of the 2250s and 2260s, Starfleet needed to have a rapid response to any medical emergency within Federation space. Where medical facilities may be limited or even non-existent, Starfleet Medical wanted to have a fast-responder starship that could help to stem an outbreak in the first stages, or co-ordinate a disaster response more efficiently.
The result was the Hecla class Fast Hospital Ship (AHF) that was a re-design of the original Hermes class scout. As with all medical ships, the caduceus symbol of Starfleet Medical was prominently displayed on the outer hull to avoid confusion with the military versions. The Hecla class itself is not designed for more than a token patient presence on the ship, more it is there to co-ordinate resources already present, utilise its own medical facilities to aid in pathogen identification and isolation/inoculation/treatment or to assess and co-ordinate the larger medical response needed for larger scale medical emergencies.
With the success of the initial batch of Hecla class, there was no surprise when a second batch were ordered in 2275 following the introduction of New Technology and linear warp drive technology. This had the immediate effect of speeding up response times and saving more lives. Starfleet acted quickly to retire the older circumferential warp drive ships and replace them with the new ones.
Currently Starfleet Medical has 146 Hecla class fast medical ships in service. Plans are currently in place to replace the current batch of fast responders with a new variant of Hecla class with upgraded warp drive and new facilities. Starfleet Medical has been pressing the Federation Council for approval, which is due through anytime now.