At some point, most people will either witness or be involved in an accident, or experience a medical or mental health emergency.
Knowing what to do next and who to call can potentially save lives.
Call 999 in a medical or mental health emergency. This is when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
These emergencies can include:
- loss of consciousness
- a sudden confused state
- fits that are not stopping
- chest pain
- breathing difficulties
- severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
- severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
- severe burns or scalds
- someone has seriously injured themselves or taken an overdose
Also call 999 if you think someone has had a major trauma, such as after a serious road traffic accident, a stabbing, a shooting, a fall from height, or a serious head injury.
If you're not sure what to do
NHS 111 can help if you need urgent medical help or you're not sure what to do.
They will ask questions about your symptoms so you get the help you need.
If you need to go to A&E, NHS 111 will book an arrival time. This might mean you spend less time in A&E. This also helps with social distancing.
You can get help from NHS 111 online or call 111. It's available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What happens when I call 999?
If it's a genuine emergency, where someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk, call 999 and don't panic.
You can contact emergency services via SMS if you're deaf, hearing impaired or have a speech impediment.
Visit the emergencySMS website for more information or to register your phone.
British Sign Language (BSL) speakers can make a free video call to 999 using the 999 BSL website or app.
1. Answer the questions
Once you're connected to a call handler, you'll have to answer a series of questions to establish what's wrong, such as:
- where are you (including the area or postcode)?
- what phone number are you calling from?
- what has happened?
This will allow the operator to determine the most appropriate response as quickly as possible.
Dialling 999 does not necessarily mean an ambulance will be dispatched. The call handler will decide what's appropriate.
It may be safe enough for you to be seen elsewhere, or you can be given telephone advice by a medically trained clinical adviser.
An ambulance will be sent if it's a life-threatening emergency.
Response units that could be dispatched include:
- an emergency ambulance
- a rapid response vehicle or motorbike
- a cycle response unit
- a community first responder
- a combination of the above
2. Do not hang up yet
Wait for a response from the ambulance control room. They might have further questions for you, such as:
- what's the age, gender and medical history of the patient?
- is the person awake or conscious and breathing?
- is there any serious bleeding or chest pain?
- what is the injury and how did it happen?
The person handling your call will let you know when they have all the information they need.
You might also be given instructions about how to give first aid until the ambulance arrives.
3. How you can assist the ambulance crew
There are a number of things you can do to assist the ambulance service.
For example, stay calm and:
- if you're in the street, stay with the patient until help arrives
- if you're in a dark house, turn on lights and open curtains
- if you're in a car, turn on hazard lights
- call the ambulance service back if the patient's condition changes
- call the ambulance service back if your location changes
- if you're calling from home or work, ask someone to open the door and direct the paramedics to where they're needed
- lock away family pets
- if you can, write down the patient's GP details and collect any medicine they're taking
- if you can, tell the paramedics about any allergies the patient has
If appropriate, you may want to call the patient's GP. The GP may meet you at the A&E department, or call with important information about the patient.
How to give first aid
If someone is injured in an incident, first check that you and the casualty are not in any danger. If you are, make the situation safe.
When it's safe to do so, assess the casualty and, if necessary, dial 999 for an ambulance. You can then carry out basic first aid.
It's important to stay calm and try to get an overview of the situation.
See if you can identify what the most serious problem is. The most obvious problem is not always the most serious.
Treat the most life-threatening problems first, such as:
- lack of breathing
If a person is not breathing normally after an accident, call an ambulance and start CPR straight away if you can.
If a person is unconscious but is breathing and has no other life-threatening conditions, they should be placed in the recovery position.
Check for broken bones and other injuries afterwards.