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Urgent and emergency care services in England

Visting an A&E department

An A&E department (also known as emergency department or casualty) deals with genuine life-threatening emergencies, such as:

Less severe injuries can be treated in urgent care centres or minor injuries units (MIUs). An A&E is not an alternative to a GP appointment. If your GP practice is closed you can call NHS 111, which will direct you to the best local service to treat your injury. Alternatively, you can visit an NHS walk-in centre (WIC), which will also treat minor illnesses without an appointment.

How to find your nearest A&E?

Not all hospitals have an A&E department. You can use the find services search on this site to see if there is one near you. Alternatively, many hospitals have their own website and generally describe the urgent and emergency care services they offer.

If you dialled 999 for an ambulance and you have to be taken to hospital, then the ambulance team will take you to the most appropriate A&E – this may not be the closest. Find out more about making 999 emergency calls.

What happens at A&E?

A&E departments offer access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A&E staff include paramedics, A&E nurses, diagnostic radiographers, A&E reception staff, porters, healthcare assistants and emergency medicine doctors. Medical staff are highly trained in all aspects of emergency medicine.

1. Register

If you arrive by ambulance, the ambulance crew will report to the hospital on arrival. If you are seriously ill, the staff will already know because the ambulance crew will have alerted them en route. If you’re not in a life-threatening or serious condition, you will be prioritised by the A&E hospital team along with other patients waiting to be seen – arriving by ambulance does not necessarily mean you will be seen sooner than if you had walked in to A&E.

If you go to A&E by yourself, you’ll need to register first. You’ll be asked a few questions such as name and address but also why you are visiting A&E. If you have been at the hospital before the registrar may also check your health records.

Some hospitals have a separate children’s A&E department where medical staff are specially trained to deal with children’s health issues. You may be asked to go straight to the children’s area where you can register and be assessed.

If you need special assistance because of a physical or mental disability then you should let the registrar know right away. The hospital may be able to call a Learning Disabilities Liaison, a member of their liaison psychiatry team, or provide any other assistance you or your carer may need.

Once you’ve registered, you’ll be asked to wait until you are called for your assessment.

2. Assessment – triage

Once you have registered you’ll generally be pre-assessed by a nurse or doctor before further actions are taken. This is called triage and will ensure people with the most serious conditions are seen first.

3. Treatment, transfer or discharge

What happens next depends on the results of your assessment. Sometimes further tests need to be arranged before a course of action can be decided.

If the nurse or doctor feels your situation is not a serious accident or emergency, you may be sent to a nearby urgent care centre, minor injuries unit or referred to a GP on site. This will reduce the waiting queue in A&E and at the same time allows you (the patient with the lesser injury) to be treated quickly too. 

The waiting time target for patients in A&E is currently set to four hours from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge. However, not all hospitals have urgent care centres associated which means people with minor injuries may have a longer wait until they are seen.

In some cases you may be sent home and asked to arrange for a GP referral or you may be given a prescription and send home. Either way, the hospital will inform your GP that you have been to A&E.

If your situation is more complicated, you may be seen by an A&E doctor or referred to a specialist unit. For example, this could happen for eye problems, strokes or emergency gynaecology.


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: 14/09/2015

Next review due: 14/09/2017

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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