At some point, most people will either witness or be involved in an accident or experience a medical emergency.
Knowing what to do next and who to call can potentially save lives.
Call 999 in a medical emergency. This is when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
Medical emergencies can include:
- loss of consciousness
- an acute confused state
- fits that aren't stopping
- chest pain
- breathing difficulties
- severe bleeding that can't be stopped
- severe allergic reactions
- severe burns or scalds
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 it's not a life-threatening emergency and you or the person you're with doesn't need immediate medical attention, please consider other options before dialling 999.
- self care at home
- calling NHS 111
- talking to a pharmacist
- visiting or calling your GP
- going to your local NHS walk-in centre
- going to your local urgent care centre or your local minor injuries unit
- making your own way to your local A&E department (arriving in an ambulance doesn't mean you'll be seen any quicker)
Choosing the best service for your needs will ensure the ambulance service is able to respond to the people who need help the most.
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.
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 doesn't 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. Don't 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.
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
- 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 medication 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 aren't 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 or 112 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 isn't always the most serious.
Treat the most life-threatening problems first, such as lack of breathing, bleeding or shock.
Check for broken bones and other injuries afterwards.
If a person is unconscious but is breathing and has no other life-threatening conditions, they should be placed in the recovery position.
If a person isn't breathing normally after an accident, call an ambulance and start CPR straight away if you can.
Page last reviewed: 29 August 2018
Next review due: 29 August 2021