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Urgent and emergency care services in England

When is it appropriate to visit an A&E department?

Only call 999 or go to A&E in a genuine life-threatening emergency, such as:

  • loss of consciousness
  • acute confused state and fits that are not stopping
  • persistent, severe chest pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped

For illnesses that are not life-threatening you should first contact your GP surgery. Outside of normal surgery hours you can still phone your GP, but you will usually be directed to an out-of-hours service. The out-of-hours period is from 6.30pm to 8am on weekdays, and all day at weekends and on bank holidays. During out-of-hours periods you can also call NHS 111. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can provide medical advice and advise you on the best local service to offer the care you need.

Less severe injuries can be treated in minor injuries units (MIUs) and NHS walk-in centres (WICs), which can treat patients without an appointment.

If an ambulance is needed, call 999, the emergency phone number in the UK. You can also dial 112, which is the ambulance number throughout the European Union.

Major A&E departments offer access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, although not all hospitals have an A&E department. At A&E a doctor or nurse will assess your condition and decide on further action.

Other services that offer emergency and urgent care

  • Minor injuries units (MIUs) offer assessment and treatment for minor injuries such as sprains and strains. Read more about MIUs or find an MIU near you.
  • Urgent care centres can provide a variety of services and are an alternative to A&E in non-life threatening situations. However, not all urgent care centres provide the same services. It is advisable to contact your local urgent care centre first and check if they are able to deal with your problem. You can also call NHS 111 for advice. 
  •  At NHS walk-in centres (WICs) you can see an experienced nurse or doctor (although not all centres have a doctor) without an appointment. They offer advice, assessment and treatment for minor ailments and injuries such as cuts, bruises, minor infections, strains and skin complaints. Read more about WICs or find a WIC near you.
  • GP out-of-hours service – A GP is always available from 6.30pm to 8am weekdays and all day weekends and bank holidays. The organisation providing the service varies in different areas so check first with your local surgery or Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). When your local GP surgery is shut, an answerphone message will give you the contact details for the out-of-hours service. Alternatively you can call NHS 111 for advice.
  • If clinically necessary, out-of-hours dental treatment is also provided by your Clinical Commissioning Group. Read more about dental emergency and out-of-hours care
  • Emergency contraception can stop you becoming pregnant after having unprotected sex. Two methods are available, the "morning after pill" and the copper intrauterine device (IUD). The pill can be taken up to 72 hours after sex and is available free from your GP and most family planning clinics. It is also available from some pharmacies. The IUD is a plastic and copper device that is fitted into the woman’s womb by a doctor or nurse within five days of having unprotected sex. Read our guide to contraception for more advice.
  • Mental health emergencies – If a person's mental or emotional state quickly worsens, this can be treated as a mental health emergency or mental health crisis. In this situation, it's important to get help as soon as possible. Contact NHS 111 to find out where help is available. If you feel the person is in immediate danger then call 999. Find more information about Access to mental health services, including emergencies


The 22 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

linzbee said on 24 June 2015

I was treated for a broken elbow, and years ago for a broken nose. Of course you must wait for hours as this is not life threatening. Once seen, you get what you need, however exhausted the staff are, at no cost. The system is excellent, given all the pressures on the NHS. What is outrageous is that the UK is a really wealthy country. There is always enough cash for amazing new buildings in the City, sports, posh restaurants, ridiculous talent shows on TV, and fashion events. Something really fundamental needs to happen to re distribute wealth and persuade certain people to stop being completely greedy and vacuous and try to aspire to the basic moral code, strength and behaviour continually being displayed by NHS staff.

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iainUK said on 01 January 2015

The name "Accident and Emergency" clearly indicates that accidents which are not emergencies are also welcomed along with emergencies.

Instead of having endless costly meetings to figure out how to reduce admissions, it's a simple matter of changing the sign above the door!

"Emergency Department" clearly shows that only emergencies are welcome (obviously that's including accidents which are emergencies). It's really very simple.

But with the current title, do not be surprised when people turn up with all kinds of non-emergency 'accidents' since that is exactly what you have invited them to do.

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tclarke01 said on 02 July 2014

Reply: Terry999

Sorry to hear you've been in and out of A&E, in regards to your question, the blood tests ordered for you, will be specific to you, depending on symptoms and previous medical history.

The chances are though that they would have ordered, full FBC's Clotting and Platlets (Full Blood Count and Bloods to check if your blood is clotting correctly) as you've have chest pains.

However if you would like to know more specifically you can contact the Hospitals Trust's Patients Records Service (in writing) and request what they are, that info is usually avaliable from their website, e.g. If at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington LONDON, you would contact Imperial College Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust directly.

Hope this helps.

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galip said on 30 June 2014

I can not see an emergency dental service.

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Terry999 said on 04 May 2014

I have been in A&E a couple of time:) Does anyone know what they test for with the blood test you have taken?

When I have had chest pains in the past, I know that they check for changes to see if there is any heart damage, thankfully mine have all be ok... but do they test for other things at the same time or not? :))

Be interested to know... thanks all.

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SADSUSIE said on 02 April 2014

So A&Es are now "Emergency Departments" and not to be used for accidents? Cannot accidents be emergencies?? (Adam91's comment below)

"Our Emergency Departments are also often referred to as Accident & Emergency (A&E). They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for anyone seeking treatment for an urgent problem caused by an accident or illness."

Conflicting and unclear information here, I think.

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jake9 said on 12 December 2013

Given that my GP can NEVER see anyone for 2 weeks at best I went into NHS website for the local pop in clinic .I went to the address shown... it is not a pop in clinic
I am 70 yearsold & although I enjoy reasonably good health I would like to know where I go when I have problems or have pains which I don't know are serious or not ...given that effectively GPs no longer can assist..
Presumably you head for A&E like everyone else!.

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isfedup1 said on 01 March 2013

There would be less pressure on A&E if people with less serious problems went elsewhere.

But if you go to the NHS website and search for local care, walk-in centres don't come up.

We pay for the NHS and we get the run around.

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headley248 said on 30 January 2013

I sometimes feel that people expect too much from the NHs - we are blaming the wrong people. When the government create so many cuts and allow wards to be ran on the absolute bare minimum of staff necessary to keep a ward open, how are they supposed to work at their finest? The nruses try hard and especially in A&E where time is of the essence. These health workers, nurses, doctors and receptionists are given general training as they have to deal with critical conditions but also a massive range of difficult illnesses and injuries. Cut them some slack because not all of them are doing bad. I take my hat off to the NHS workers who try hard, and work hard even though the odds are stacked against them. I certainly couldn't do it.

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User742537 said on 22 January 2013

if in an accident at a remote spot and no one is around can you ring 112 from your mobile and be located by GPS ?

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CC250 said on 16 January 2013

Someone on this has asked why people have to wait so long in A+E. I am a nurse and to shed some light....A+E departments receive tens (sometimes into hundreds!) of patients a day. These patients must be prioritised by who needs to be seen first; for example, someone with chest pain will get seen before someone with a bleeding finger, but at the same time staff will maybe be having to deal with a car crash victim. So if you come in with, say, a sore stomach but are not severly vomiting etc you will probably have to wait a while as someone having a heart attack will be getting seen before you (naturally!) After you have been seen, if you have to stay in hospital the reason you may wait so long is because we are waiting on a bed becoming available in a ward. There are not enough staff in A+E departements or hospitals in general, this also adds to pressure. But please give us a break...we try our best :)

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PWS Parent said on 10 April 2012

My learning and physically disabled daughter had a mental health crisis caused by her genetic condition and I sought help in A+E .It was on her 18th birthday, and she thought she was dead/could see dead people/didn't recognize me.We were there for 6 hours and were sent away without help of any sort. Staff told me to take her to the GP surgery to get a sleeping tablet, as she hadn't slept in 5 days.When we got to the GP's , I was nearly whimpering myself. How can it be possible for NHS staff to be so cruel? They said that the A+E didn't have the medicines to treat my daughter .When we have accessed emergency care for a broken leg and other ,more serious physical problems, they were kindness itself. It was then that I realised just how dire the mental health services in the NHS were.We now have a 5 minute visit to a psych: every 6 months to check her medicine is working and she has her genetic psychosis under control-and is the happy person she used to be -thanks to our GP.

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Kaguyahime said on 07 November 2011

I too would like to say 'thank you' to the ambulance staff and nurses/doctors in A&E.
I recently went into a seizure due to low potassium and my mother had to call 999. They were with me in no time and I was treated with care and respect on the observation ward I was put on.
Thank you all

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User545387 said on 07 April 2011

I went into A&E the other day to get PEP and they had no idea what it was or was i was explaining i needed, all staff are ment to be trained up to know why someone needs PEP and what it is etc. I was not impressed. Shows alot of staff are not trained, they even looked up the medication i was asking for and they said it doesnt excist as it not in the book, so in the end they had ring round places to find out what it was! over 3 hours to sort that out i was not impressed!

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User505733 said on 28 November 2010

In response to the last comment:
Yes. To become a Doctor, no matter what speciality, you need to go to medical school to learn. Medical school is difficult to get in to, so you must show real commitment, a great academic record and have good people skills.
Medical school is typically 5 years (6 with an extra science degree), then you undergo 2 years of foundation training as a junior Doctor - this is rotations around different departments. After this, you can enter speciality training if you are a successful applicant.

I hope this has helped.

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shoppingfarah said on 23 September 2010

Hello guys, I would like to be a A&E doctor as well. Im so intrested in it. I have contacted everyone and they are saying: A* Chemistry and 3 other A levels, ok thats done. I asked Campbridge Uni and they say to get a medicine degree, etc. So do I have to go medical school?

Thanks if someone could help.

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emit said on 30 July 2010

With all respect to A&E work specific hospitals should qualify the staff they employ for the reception and ANP. My partner have been delivered to Queens Elizabeth London A&E after criminal assault, injured and not being able to walk. Emergency team bringing us there were excellent: highly professional and personally comforting. From very first minute in hospital nurse practitioner assumed!!! that pain killers cannot be given as probably my partner is drunk. We had to ask police to confirm that we have been victims of cruel attack on the street and it has got nothing to do with alcohol. Waiting time for patient with head and back injuries and numbness of legs was almost 5 hours! Nobody has even offered a cloth to clean blood off the face! I kept asking nurse and reception to move us forward but one of the answers was : "but he is still alive''. Disgrace having in mind that half of injuries have not even been diagnosed.

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Kirstles87 said on 23 June 2010

I am a community care assistant in the Liverpool area, I got to a male 85 year old service user at 9.30am this morning, and found him on the floor. He had fallen at 11pm the previous evening and had been there ever since, yet we were still forced to wait until 11.50 am for an ambulance, a whopping 2 hours and 20 minutes later. I feel, and still feel, this is completely unacceptable

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Smokey Jones said on 28 May 2010

Why do patients have to wait so long in A and E?

Can A and E staff please give patients more clear and more detailed information, please.

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paultasker6 said on 05 October 2009

I needed casualty at Leeds General Infirmary this weekend. I also would like to say a huge thank you to all the staff from receptionists up to doctors.
I did get the opportunity to thank one of the self-harm psychiatrists personally and she said they don't hear that often enough.

So, please let's all thank the NHS more often and in more public ways.

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Concerned Citizen! said on 20 June 2009

Would n't it be nice to know who dpow are!!

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barry lee said on 22 April 2009

i would like to say a big thankyou to all the nurses and doctors on c3 and c6 at dpow for my recent stay the care you gave me was a1 i would also like to say a big thankyou to all the carers and to the nurses and doctors on AE
thankyou barry lee

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Page last reviewed: 10/02/2015

Next review due: 10/02/2017

Key stats

  • 18.3 million people accessed A&E departments in 2012/2013
  • 64.1% of patients refer themselves to A&E
  • Out of all A&E attendees 7.9 million were under the age of 29
  • Just under half of all A&E attendances were male
  • 4.4 million patients arrive at A&E via ambulance or helicopter
  • 10.8 million of all attendances were discharged
  • 3.8 million of all attendances were admitted to hospital


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