9 Signs That You Should Urgently Call an Ambulance

How to call an ambulance

With the NHS under increasing strain, the UK’s ambulance service is under more pressure than ever. Waiting times for an ambulance can now far exceed the national target of 8 minutes, even in a life-threatening emergency. This means that first aid skills are more important than ever and key to a casualty’s survival.

It is important to avoid overloading the emergency services. For this reason you should be able to assess when someone is seriously ill or hurt. You should also understand whether it is better to call an ambulance, go to A&E or to your GP.


The following information aims to help you with this extremely difficult and critical decision:


If the casualty is an elderly person, baby or very young child and you are seriously concerned – always call an ambulance. Moreover, note that children can often mask serious symptoms and their condition can then quickly deteriorate.

The decision you make will vary from case to case. Anyway we would strongly advise you to immediately administer First Aid and call an ambulance if someone:

  • Appears not to be breathing, is having chest pain, struggling for breath, or breathing in a strange way appearing to ‘suck in’ below their rib cage and using other muscles to help them to breathe.
  • If they have a severe injury that is bleeding profusely and you are unable to stop with direct pressure on the wound.
  • If they are unconscious or unaware of what is going on around them or experiencing weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking.
  • An ambulance should be called if someone has a seizure for the first time, even if they seem to recover from it later. It is important to phone an ambulance if someone is having a seizure and the fitting lasts longer than 3 minutes.
  • If someone has a severe allergic reaction it is important to administer their adrenaline auto injector (if they have one) and then phone an ambulance immediately.
  • For a child or an elderly person: if they are burned and the burn is severe enough that you think it will need dressing – treat the burn under cool running water and call an ambulance. Keep cooling the burn until the paramedics arrive – look out for signs of shock. For a fit adult – cool the burn for a full 20 minutes – longer if it is still extremely painful and then apply a burns dressing or loosely cover with cling film and transfer them for immediate medical attention.


What to do if someone falls

  • If someone has fallen from a height, been hit by something travelling at speed (like a car), been undertaking some form of spinal manipulation, been hit with force whilst doing combat or contact sport and there is a possibility of a spinal injury
  • Keep them completely still and get an ambulance on the way.
  • If they are on their back, unconscious and breathing and you are concerned about their airway – very carefully roll them into the recovery position and then phone an ambulance. Do this by very carefully log rolling them into the recovery position, without twisting their spine if at all possible. Ensure you have robust contingency plans in place to ensure you can get additional help to your treatment room in an emergency.
  • If they are unconscious and not breathing, start CPR. For a child or baby, do one minute of CPR before phoning an ambulance. For an adult, phone an ambulance immediately, and get an AED if there is one available.


You don’t get seen any faster in A&E if you arrive by ambulance


Take someone straight to A&E if they have:

  • A fever and are floppy and lethargic
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • A cut that is gaping or losing a lot of blood, if they have amputated a finger or if there is something embedded in the wound.
  • A leg or arm injury and can’t use the limb.
  • Swallowed poison or tablets and are not showing any adverse effects ( calling 111 can also give you advise from the poisons database.  If they are behaving strangely or experiencing any symptoms from the poison; call an ambulance immediately)


Go to your Family Doctor:

For less serious and non life-threatening medical concerns, you contact your GP or phone 111 for medical advice

Most importantly – trust your instincts. If you are seriously worried, administer First Aid and get medical help quickly.


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StaySafe community facebook group can support people with skills to recognise when something is seriously wrong and safely manage minor illnesses and injuries at home

We strongly recommend that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit firstaidforlife.org.uk  emma@firstaidforlife.org.uk or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.

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First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.