You are here:

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.

Page last reviewed: 14/09/2015

Next review due: 14/09/2017

Find A&E services near you

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

 

When to dial 999?

Get advice on first aid and when to dial 999, including what information to pass on to emergency response units

They went to A&E for what?

Watch this series of videos featuring real-life examples of the silliest reasons why people visit A&E