How to call an ambulance


The NHS is under increasing strain and the UK’s ambulance service is under more pressure than ever. The London Ambulance Service is currently receiving up to 8,000 emergency calls a day. Waiting times for an ambulance can now massively 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.

On the 8th January, the extent of the situation in London led Sadiq Khan to declare a Major Incident. The whole NHS Emergency Service is in overwhelm at the moment. The ambulances are struggling to get to you as the A&E departments are gridlocked and ambulances are therefore queuing for hours to deliver patients to A&E. Patients are spending many hours on trolleys in A&E or in the back of ambulances, waiting to be seen.

Consequently it is critical that we all do our part to avoid overloading the emergency services by avoiding taking any unnecessary risks. The RoSPA states that every year in the UK “2.7 million turn up at accident and emergency departments seeking treatment”. Now more than ever before it’s necessary to gain the knowledge to assess when someone is seriously ill or hurt and when it is something more minor that can be treated at home.

This article should help you evaluate 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:

Always call an ambulance if the casualty is an elderly person, baby or very young child and you are seriously concerned. 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. Either way 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 to breathe, or breathing in a strange way -appearing to ‘suck in’ below their rib cage and using other muscles to help them to breathe.
  • Has a severe injury that is bleeding profusely and you are unable to stop with direct pressure on the wound.
  • Is unconscious or unaware of what is going on around them or experiencing weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking.
  • Has a seizure for the first time even if they seem to recover from it later. You should phone an ambulance if someone is having a seizure and the fitting lasts longer than 3 minutes.
  • 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 for a full 20 minutes 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 take them to A&E for medical attention.


Click here for our Essential First Aid course

What to do if someone falls

  • Call an ambulance 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.


It’s important to understand that you don’t get seen any faster in A&E if you arrive by ambulance. Regardless of how you get there, you will be triaged by an nurse on arrival.


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)


Contact your Family Doctor:

For less serious and non life-threatening medical concerns, 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.

The NHS is still there for you. Please ensure you contact your GP if you have any chronic or acute conditions you are worried about. Any new symptoms, skin complaints or any other condition that prior to Covid would have led you to contact your Doctor. There are Covid-secure areas within the NHS where you can be safely treated. Sadly many of the excess deaths during the pandemic have been due to people being scared about contacting their doctor.


Supporting you through lockdown

At First Aid for Life we understand that lockdown can be extremely stressful and it can have a negative effect on your mental health. It’s so important to communicate your feelings and be open about your struggles. If you or someone you know is facing mental health challenges and need some extra support, one of our Mental Health First Aid courses will give you vital tools to help.

Our Enhanced Mental Health course, which has been created in collaboration with the Maudsley offers clear, practical advice to help you gain a better understanding of how to help yourself, or others to achieve optimum mental health as well as how to help if you believe someone is in crisis. We cover how and when to approach someone and the best way to broach difficult conversations. The course offers self-help and proven methods to increase resilience and help with stress and insomnia. It also signposts you to established organisations who are there to help you when you need it.

There is currently an offer for 30% off of all of our Mental Health courses and it is valid until 31/01/2021


About us

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

First Aid for Life provide award-winning first aid training tailored to your needs. Please visit our site and learn more about our practical and online courses. It is vital to keep your skills current and refreshed. We are currently providing essential training for individuals and groups across the UK. In addition, we have a great range of online courses. These are ideal as refreshers for regulated qualifications or as Appointed Person qualifications.

You can attend a fully regulated Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.

First Aid for Life is a multi-award-winning, fully regulated first aid training provider. Our trainers are highly experienced medical, health and emergency services professionals. They will tailor the training to your needs. Courses for groups or individuals at our venue or yours.

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

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Emma Hammett
Author: Emma Hammett