There are over 21 million attendances at accident and emergency (A&E) departments each year.
A&E departments assess and treat patients with serious injuries or illnesses. Generally, you should visit A&E or call 999 for life-threatening emergencies, 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
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.
If it is not an immediate emergency 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 services and NHS walk-in centres, which can treat patients without an appointment.
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.
More information on services other than A&E departments that offer emergency and urgent care:
- Minor injuries units (MIUs) offer assessment and treatment for minor injuries such as sprains and strains.
- At NHS walk-in centres 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.
- 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 your primary care trust (PCT), or your Clinical Commissioning Group from 1 April. When your local GP surgery is shut, an answerphone message will give you the contact details for the out-of-hours service.
- If clinically necessary, out-of-hours dental treatment is also provided by your PCT or your Clinical Commissioning Group from 1 April.
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 Direct (or NHS 111 if available in your area) to find out where help is available. If you feel the person is in immediate danger then call 999.
- Urgent care centres provide a variety of services but vary in different areas. You may be able to attend such a centre rather than go to A&E. It is best to phone ahead or call NHS Direct (or NHS 111 if available in your area) to find out if the services you require are available at your local urgent care centre.