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Choice in an emergency

Your choices in an emergency

At some point, most people will need to get help because of an accident or a medical emergency. This is more likely if you have children or elderly relatives living with you. Planning ahead and understanding what your options are in an emergency will help you get the best care as quickly as possible.

Your options in an emergency include: 

Calling 999

Only dial 999 in a critical or life-threatening situation, for example is someone has:

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

For more information on what to do in an emergency, go to emergency and urgent care services.

If you or someone else is having a heart attack or stroke, call 999 immediately. Every second counts with these conditions.

Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments

Major A&E departments are usually open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. A&E departments have access to specialists and specialist investigations. When you go to A&E, a doctor or nurse will assess your condition and decide what action to take. Your condition may need to be investigated further, for example you may need to have an X-ray or you may need to be admitted into hospital for a longer stay or receive long-term treatment. The treatment you receive will depend on your clinical need.

If you don’t know whether your situation is an emergency, or you don’t think it is but don’t know where to access appropriate help then one of the following services maybe more suitable. 

NHS 111 service

NHS 111 is a new service being introduced to make it easier for you to access local NHS healthcare services when you need medical help fast, but it’s not a 999 emergency. NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones.

NHS 111 is a fast and easy way to get the right help – wherever you are, and whatever the time. Find out more about NHS 111, including which areas of the country are currently covered by the service. 

NHS Direct

If you live outside the NHS 111 areas and need medical help but not 999, please continue to call NHS Direct on 0845 4647. This service will continue to be available until April 2013.

GP services

For illnesses that are not life-threatening, 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 Direct on 0845 4647 (or NHS 111 if available in your area).

Minor injuries units, walk-in centres and urgent care centres

If your injury is not serious, go to a minor injuries unit (MIU), walk-in centre or urgent care centre rather than an A&E department. You could be seen more quickly than in A&E, and it allows staff in A&E to concentrate on people with serious and life-threatening conditions.

The types of injury they can treat varies, so it is best to phone before you go to check, but they may be able to treat:

If there is not a minor injuries unit in your area then these services are also provided by A&E departments.

MIUs and walk-in centres cannot treat:

Be aware that some MIUs and walk-in centres do not have the facilities to treat young children. The decision lies with the MIU or walk-in centre and is based on the capacity, resource or skill levels available. Please contact your local MIU or walk-in centre in advance if you are not sure if you or your child can be treated there.

Plan ahead for an emergency. Go to Find services to find your local A&E department and MIU. Print out the details and keep them where you can see them, such as on your fridge door. 

If you have a long-term condition, write down the details of your GP, prescriptions, other medications and any test results. Keep them handy so you can give as much information as possible to the person who provides treatment in an emergency.  

Keep a basic first aid kit in your home and ensure that everyone, including children, knows how to use it.


The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Tobias321 said on 03 February 2014

I am an asthmatic and needed some help. I was taken to my nearest Hospital some 10 miles away it was a nightmare. all night in A&E then three days in wards where the care was abysmal. Now my daughter says if I need such care again she will take me to a different hospital that is just as close. Would that be acceptable? because if not I do not think I can go back to the Hospital I used.

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thesingingbush said on 27 December 2013

Of the 4 questions below, none have been answered. I am particularly interested in the question posted by Dominiqua

"Hi, in case of emergency, after calling 999 for NHS ambulance service, will I be taken to a hospital of my choice or is there another policy that will determine which hospital I am sent to?"

My first answer is, no you will not be taken to a hospital of your choice unless there is a medically proven reason, ie a specialist unit that is already dealing with your particular problem. However i believe that if you access emergency treatment be it from an out of hours GP or 999 ambulance you would normally be taken to the nearest A&E for assessment, if you needed any at all. The NHS system is abused by people who live near a hospital and then dictate the "patients charter" to NHS staff in order to get a lift nearer to home. If you need 999 treatment, you go to the nearest A&E.

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Rob1888 said on 08 October 2013

Hi there,

After a fall down a some concrete stairs I was convinced that I had broken a bone or bones in my hand, my hand was badly swollen and I was in quit a lot of pain so off to A&E I went, three x-ray's where taken of my hand and I was told everything was fine and to come back if my fingers started to stiffen up so I asked to see my x-ray's but was told to make an appointment with my GP and view them their I replied to the nurse that my GP surgery doesn't have the facilities to view x-ray's and asked again to see them but this time I was ignored by the nurse who just walked away, the swelling has gone completely but my hand is disfigured because of a what I can only describe as a broken bone, why won't they let me view my x-ray's or is there any other way I can get to see them.


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Dominiqua said on 18 May 2013

Hi, in case of emergency, after calling 999 for NHS ambulance service, will I be taken to a hospital of my choice or is there another policy that will determine which hospital I am sent to?

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fedupman said on 31 May 2012

Recently at local sports centre my achilles tendon snapped. I collapsed, was in agony and obviously unable to walk and very distressed. The centre called for an ambulance and after half an hour I was told that it was not considered life threatending and was told that I had to make my own way to a&e.
How injured must you be to obtain medical assistance or aid ?

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Jose Porras said on 06 February 2012

Hello my name is Jose Porras, the reason I am writing is i need help with my disease and not know where or what part of the NHS or number I have to call me as soon as possible to meet my disease is called CIDP Chronic Inflammatory polyneuropathy

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Page last reviewed: 23/02/2012

Next review due: 23/02/2014

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