When to call an ambulance






Each call to 999 for an ambulance costs the NHS money.

The call itself costs £7

If an ambulance is dispatched it 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.

Consider the cost of those unnecessary call outs to the NHS. Consider too, that then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, described last winter as the ‘worst ever’ for the NHS as the health service struggled to keep up with overwhelming demands on it.

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 and when not to 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.

Read on for our guide to when to call an ambulance.

Call an ambulance

  • Unconsciousness
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Obvious serious wound or suspected skull fracture
  • Bleeding or clear fluid from the nose, ear or mouth
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Disturbance of speech or vision
  • Pupils of unequal size
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Dizziness
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Fitting
  • Vomiting

When to Call an Ambulance

If the casualty is unconscious

  • If they are breathing, roll them into the recovery position (on their side so that their tongue falls forward in their mouth and any vomit can drain away), trying not to twist their neck or spine at all. Any head injury may well have caused spinal damage as the head recoils from the blow.
  • If they are not breathing start CPR. Learn how to perform CPR here.
  • Call for an ambulance.

When to Call an Ambulance

If the casualty is conscious and has a serious head injury

  • Phone for an ambulance
  • Do your best to keep the casualty calm and still – make sure they do not twist, as they could have a spinal injury
  • If there is bleeding, grab a clean cloth and apply pressure
  • Do not attempt to clean the wound as it could make things worse
  • Do not apply forceful direct pressure to the wound if you suspect the skull is fractured
  • Do not remove any object that’s stuck in the wound

When to Call an Ambulance


It is strongly advised that you attend a practical first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Visit www.firstaidforlife.org.uk  and www.onlinefirstaid.com for more information about our practical and online courses and to access free resources.

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.

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