What happens when you call 999?

When you call 999, an operator will ask you which emergency service you require. In a medical emergency, ask for the ambulance service and you will be put through to one of our call-takers.

Initially, you will be asked four questions:

  1. Is the patient is breathing?
  2. What address are you calling from?
  3. What number are you calling from? (so we can call you back if you get cut off)
  4. What is the reason for your call?

Key words are identified to indicate a life-threatening emergency so we can allocate an ambulance at the earliest opportunity.

Further questions are then asked to help identify the severity of the patient’s condition so the incident can be prioritised and the most appropriate response provided. If necessary, immediate care advice will be given until help arrives.

Calls fit into the following categories which determine the speed and type of response:

Category 1 (7 minutes) – Life-threatening injuries and illnesses

Cardiac arrest, serious allergic reaction

In the majority of cases the patient will be taken to hospital

Category 2 (18 minutes) – Emergency calls

Stroke, difficulty breathing, chest pains

In the majority of cases the patient will be taken to hospital, usually the nearest emergency department (ED) but sometimes the nearest ED will be bypassed so they can be taken to a specialist unit for the best care

Category 3 (90% within 120 minutes) – Urgent calls

Late stages of labour, non-severe burns, diabetes

In some instances patients may be treated by ambulance staff in their own home.

Category 4 (90% within 180 minutes) – Less urgent calls

Diarrhoea and vomiting, urine infections

In some instances patients may be given advice over the telephone or referred to another service such as a GP or pharmacist.

What can you do before help arrives?

After calling 999, you can help us by doing the following:

  • Stay with the patient until the ambulance crew arrives and call back if their condition or location changes. 
  • If your house name and/or number is not clearly visible from the roadside, ask someone to open the door and signal to the ambulance staff where they are required.
  • If it is dark, turn on house lights and pull back curtains.
  • Lock away family pets.
  • If possible, collect any medication being taken by the patient.
  • Stay calm – our staff are there to help. Violent or threatening behaviour will not be tolerated and could delay help getting to the patient.