Do you know when to call an ambulance?

Ambulance emergency calls to 999, Pressure on NHS funding, Ambulance service, Medical advice in an emergency

Each call to 999 for an ambulance comes directly from the NHS funding. When the call is made to the 999 ambulance service the call is received by trained emergency call handlers and it is their job to triage patients who need an emergency ambulance and those who could access health care through other routes. The call itself costs £7.  If the triage of the patient is considered an emergency or immediately life-threatening an ambulance will be dispatched. This costs £180.

If the patient is brought into the emergency department, the bill comes to £233. However, a recent study analysing 300 consecutive calls to the NHS found just over half – 54% – of the patients legitimately needed an ambulance, with a high percentage of these being falls.

That leaves 46% of calls where patients could make their own way to the hospital or made contact with a different service in the first place such as 111 on their GP.  In the last year, the ambulance service has been put under immense pressure. In preparation for this winter, the NHS has announced a £36.3m investment in new fleets of ambulances and infrastructure with a 256-strong fleet of new state-of-the-art ambulances. Being clear about when you should and shouldn't call an ambulance is extremely useful and will save the NHS' valuable funds. It also frees the NHS to attend calls which are truly life-threatening and those who need immediate care.

In 2017 the NHS launched the National Ambulance Response Programme which gave every ambulance service in the UK the same set target times to get to patients depending on the urgency and possible risk of threat to life. Below is our guide to when to call an ambulance and what response time you can expect, allowing you to make an informed decision about getting to the closest hospital.

  • 8 minutes response times for cardiac, respiratory arrests (drowning), choking, active fitting, heavy blood loss in babies, babies being delivered.
  • 18 minutes response time for everyone who is breathing normally but maybe unconscious, post fitting, strokes, heart attacks, severe breathing problems, significant bleeding, anaphylactic reactions, the possibility of major trauma such as after an accident, probable sepsis, probable meningitis.
  • 120 minutes response for head injuries, breathing problems which are not severe, fractures, server abdominal pain, falls, accidental and intentional overdose, mental health and many other conditions.

When the patient's condition has been considered in need of emergency assessment but not life-threatening people need to consider whether they can safely take the patient to the hospital themselves instead of calling 999.