Before you find yourself in a situation where medical treatment, help or advice is needed urgently, it helps to be prepared - to know what is classed as an emergency, the types of services on offer and which one is best suited to your needs.
Do you need an emergency service?
When it comes to your health or the health of someone in your family, it's often very obvious if the person is seriously ill and needs immediate emergency care.
To help you decide, an emergency, critical or life-threatening situation may involve:
- a suspected stroke
- heavy blood loss
- suspected broken bones
- a deep wound such as a stab wound
- a suspected heart attack
- difficulty in breathing
- severe burns
- a severe allergic reaction
There are a few things that you should remember in any emergency to help you to deal with the situation quickly and efficiently:
- stay calm, shout for help
- you may need to get someone to telephone 999 - make sure they know where the ambulance has to come to, and that they have some details about the person who is injured or ill
- don't put yourself in danger - if someone has been electrocuted, make sure you switch off the power supply before touching them
- do everything you can to help the person
- don't give the person anything to eat, drink or smoke
- don't 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 (A&E).
This will vary from area to area as it depends 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
- the person is in shock and needs your constant attention
- the person has severe chest pain or difficulty breathing
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 that 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:
- check that the person is breathing normally
- lie the casualty on one side, with a cushion at their back
- bring their knee forward
- point the head downwards to allow any vomit to escape without the casualty 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
Accident and emergency departments
Most major hospitals have a 24-hour accident and emergency (A&E) department where you can turn up without making an appointment.
You may have to wait, even if your injuries are serious, before being seen by a doctor or nurse.
How long you wait will depend on:
- how busy the department is
- how serious other patients' conditions are
- whether your condition will get worse if left
Common misconceptions about A&E
- accident and emergency is an alternative to your GP: False - it is not appropriate to go to Accident and Emergency as an alternative to your GP
- calling 999 for an ambulance gets you to the top of the accident and emergency queue: False - patients are seen based on medical need, not who gets to the hospital first
- all injuries need X-rays: False - the doctor or nurse will be able to examine you and assess whether an X-ray is appropriate or not
- accident and emergency doctors are more expert at dealing with medical problems than your GP: False - your GP is an expert in general medicine, accident and emergency doctors are specialists in accidents and emergencies
- taking pain relief before being seen by a doctor will mask the symptoms of the injury: False - one of the first things that is often done by doctors is to give you a simple painkiller like paracetamol - it is quite safe to take these before you get medical advice as taking pain relief to treat minor injuries is the best way to make you feel better quickly and is an effective treatment. (however, always follow the instructions on the packet or leaflet)
Common misconceptions about GP services
- your doctor has to visit you at home: False - if a home visit is appropriate, the doctor or nurse will arrange it after a doctor makes a decision based on your medical need (only patients who cannot reasonably come into the surgery are visited at home)
- you will be seen more quickly if you ask for a home visit: False - during surgery hours, most doctors visit patients later in the day. so it may be quicker for you to go into the surgery during normal surgery hours and out-of-hours.(if you do the travelling, it means that the doctor can see more patients rather than spending time travelling themselves and delaying your consultation)
- all infections need antibiotics: False - antibiotics have no effect on most infections (such as colds, flu and most sore throats) because viruses cause them. and taking too many antibiotics can lead to new bacteria developing which cannot be killed by antibiotics, which is dangerous for individual people and for the whole population. (doctors recommend that you visit your pharmacist for over-the-counter remedies for minor complaints)
If it's obvious that you or someone else needs emergency treatment, dial 999, free, from any public or private telephone, and ask for the ambulance service.
Few dental emergencies require out-of-hours intervention, but if it is needed your local HSC Trust will have made appropriate arrangements.
Any dental care service provided by them will only be for cases requiring urgent treatment that cannot wait until the next working day on which a dental practice is open.
If you have had unprotected sex and wish to get emergency contraception, also called the 'morning after pill', you can get this from either a doctor's surgery, a local Family Planning Clinic or a pharmacist.
- are having emotional or mental problems that are of immediate concern
- need to talk to someone about another person's behaviour, at any time of the night or day
you can call either:
- Lifeline 0808 808 8000 - (Textphone :18001 0808 808 8000)
- Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 to talk to a trained volunteer
To find out more about mental health, you will need to talk to a doctor, nurse, social worker or care coordinator.
- Mental health emergency (people with disabilities section)
- Concerned about suicide information leaflet (PDF 425 KB)
- Help with PDF files