What is an emergency?

When it comes to your health or the health of someone in your family, it is often very obvious if the person is seriously ill and needs immediate emergency care. An emergency is a critical or life-threatening situation.

To help you decide what a critical situation is, here are some examples:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Suspected stroke
  • Heavy blood loss
  • Suspected broken bones
  • Deep wound such as a stab wound
  • Suspected heart attack
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Severe burns
  • Severe allergic reaction

What to do in an emergency?

Stay calm, shout for help. You may need to instruct someone to telephone 999. Make sure they know where the ambulance has to come to and they have some details about the person who is injured or ill. 

Do not put yourself in danger. For example, if someone has been electrocuted, make sure you switch off the power supply before touching them. Do everything you can to help the person. 

Do not give the person anything to eat, drink or smoke. Do not stick anything in their mouth. 

Follow the instructions the ambulance service call handler may give you. 

The way to help a person very often depends on what is wrong with them. Sometimes, the quickest way to help is to take the person to the nearest accident and emergency department. This will vary from area to area as it does depend on how close your local hospital is. However, even in an area where your hospital is fairly close, you should call an ambulance and not move the patient if you think they may:

* have hurt their back or neck;

* have any other injury that may be made worse by moving them;

* be in shock and needs your constant attention;

* have severe chest pain or difficulty breathing.

If the patient is unconscious - the recovery position

If the patient is unconscious, there is a safe position to put them in, which allows them to breathe easily and stops them choking on any vomit. However, you must first carefully consider whether there is any chance that the casualty has hurt their back or neck, or has an injury, which would be made worse by moving them. Putting them in the recovery position in this case could have serious consequences. If you are in any doubt, and the casualty is in no further danger by being left in their original position, do not move them. Wait for the paramedics to arrive.

How to put someone in the recovery position

Once you have checked that they are breathing normally, lie them on one side, with a cushion at their back, bring their knee forward and point their head downward to allow any vomit to escape without them swallowing it or breathing it in. Remember, when you are moving the patient onto their side, make sure their neck and back are well supported.

Heart attack signs - dial 999

There are times when recognising the symptoms of a serious emergency can save a life. 

Your prompt action could make all the difference, not just in terms of alerting the emergency services but in taking appropriate action until a health professional arrives. CLICK HERE to learn  more about heart attack signs and visit other relevant links on this for more information.

Signs of a stroke

Has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile? Can they raise both arms & keep them there? Is their speech slurred?

Time to call 999 if you see any single one of the above signs. CLICK HERE  for more information.

Mental illness emergencies

If a person's mental or emotional state quickly worsens, this can be treated as a mental health emergency or mental health crisis. In this situation, it's important to get help as soon as possible. Dial 111 to find out where help is available. If you feel the person is in immediate danger, call 999.

NHS 111

NHS 111 is a telephone service for you to call if you need medical help fast but are not in a life-threatening situation.

The easy-to-remember, free-to-call number is used to help reduce the pressure on A & E departments and the 999 service. Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, the service is for people who aren't sure if they need to go to A & E, don't have a GP to call or generally need reassurance and advice.

On dialling 111, a team of fully-trained advisers and experienced nurses will assess your symptoms and direct you to the best medical care for you. This could be an out-of-hours doctor, walk-in centre or urgent care centre, community nurse, emergency dentist or late opening chemist.

There are now only 3 numbers you need to know:

  • your GP surgery (01430 875353)
  • 111 for urgent healthcare advice (Calls are free from landlines and mobiles.)
  • 999 for life-threatening emergencies (Calls are free from landlines and mobiles.)

Call 111 if:

  • You need medical help fast but it's not a 999 emergency. 
  • You think you need to go to A & E or need another NHS urgent care service. 
  • You don't know who to call or you don't have a GP to call.
  • You need health information or reassurance about what to do next. 

For less urgent health needs, contact your GP in the usual way.

For immediate, life-threatening emergencies, continue to call 999.

Minor Injury Units

Patients often attend the hospital Accident & Emergency department when they could be treated just as professionally and usually more quickly at a Minor Injuries Unit. Minor Injuries Units are for patients with:

  • Cuts/grazes and lacerations 
  • Sprains and strains 
  • Broken bones (fractures) 
  • Bites and stings (including human/animal bites) 
  • Infected wounds 
  • Minor head injuries 
  • Minor eye infections, foreign bodies and scratches

Minor Injuries Units are staffed by highly qualified nurse practitioners, who often have more experience and expertise in this kind of treatment than many doctors. 

You don’t need an appointment to visit and the waiting times are usually much shorter than those in the emergency department as emergency staff must give priority to serious and life-threatening conditions. 

Click here for details of local MIU's

Dial 111 when it's less urgent than 999.

Urgent contraception

Women can get a pill for emergency contraception from sexual health or family planning clinics, their GP or free from certain pharmacies (if under 25). A pill for emergency contraception can be given up to 72 hrs after unprotected sex to reduce your risk of pregnancy. You can be fitted with an IUD, which is far more effective. This can be done at the practice, family planning clinics and some GUM clinics.

If you need urgent advice, call the practice or outside normal hours, dial 111. 

Urgent dental care

If you require urgent dental care, in the first instance, you should contact your own dentist for advice and treatment if required.

If you are not registered with a dentist and find yourself in need of emergency dental care outside of normal working hours, please dial 111 for the NHS 111 service (available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year).

Call 111 when you need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergencyNHS ChoicesThis site is brought to you by My Surgery Website