In the UK, and particularly in the East Berkshire area, ambulance services are stretched and working at full capacity. To help alleviate the strain on resources, it’s important to understand when to call an ambulance, as an unnecessary callout to ambulance services could risk lives.
What happens when you call an ambulance?
When a caller contacts the emergency 999 number, they will go through to an operator, who will take them through a series of questions to determine the seriousness of the patient’s condition. These assessments are divided into two categories to ensure that the most urgent cases receive the quickest response.
In London, ambulance services aim to reach 85% of emergency callouts in 8 minutes, and 95% of calls within 19 minutes. This means that knowing when to call an ambulance is crucial, as calls in the wrong circumstances directs resources to less urgent medical cases, risking the lives of those truly in need.
When to call an ambulance
Ambulance services are relied upon to aid people with serious and life-threatening medical emergencies, patients with urgent healthcare issues and to help those with patient transportation needs. An ambulance callout will prioritise the seriousness of an individual case, to ensure that those truly in need receive the quickest response, which is why knowing when to call an ambulance is vital for medical services.
Ambulance crews are able to carry out their own diagnostics at the scene of an incident, and can admit patients to specialist units directly for emergency cases related to illnesses such as diabetes, heart failure, allergic reactions, overdoses and asthma.
The NHS outlines a “genuine emergency” as being a scenario that necessitates when to call an ambulance. This relates to cases in which a patient needs immediate treatment at the scene, and cannot wait for alternative transportation to a hospital.
Priority cases for ambulances include:
- life-saving scenarios
- transportation of medical teams
- paraprofessional care for the injured
- the establishment of an Ambulance Control Point for medical resources
- transporting casualties to hospital
- sending information to hospitals regarding toxic and radiation hazards, as well as casualty contamination
Understanding the severity of a patient’s symptoms is also crucial in knowing when to call an ambulance, as genuine emergencies, or medical emergencies, can include:
- chest pains and/or breathing difficulties
- severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
- loss of consciousness
- confusion or dizziness sustained as a result of a head injury
- unstoppable fitting
- severe burns, scalds and/or allergic reactions
- victims of traffic accidents, stabbings and shootings
Someone displaying signs of having a heart attack or stroke is also classed as a medical emergency, and knowing when to call an ambulance is particularly vital in these scenarios as timing is crucial, and could save lives.
Alternatives to calling an ambulance
Some people believe that in calling an ambulance for non-medical emergencies, they will receive treatment more quickly than by seeking an alternative method. However, this is not the case and is in fact a huge drain on medical resources. Once a patient is admitted to A&E, they are assessed on a case-by-case basis, and so are prioritised according to the severity of their injuries or symptoms.
Knowing when to call an ambulance is essential to ensuring that severe cases are dealt with efficiently; however, knowing the alternative options available to non-emergency casualties is equally as important.
Having a friend or family member drive an individual to a hospital is acceptable in certain cases of minor injury; however, it is not recommended that casualties drive themselves to a medical facility, as this could worsen symptoms and cause more harm to the general public as well as the individual.
For non-threatening medical emergencies, there are a number of alternative options that will provide medical help, without putting unnecessary pressure on ambulance resources. These include:
- calling NHS 111
- talking to your local pharmacist
- visiting a GP walk-in clinic or using other available out-of-hours GP services
- attending a local minor injuries clinic
- in minor cases, self-care
Understanding the best service for your individual needs will not only ensure that you receive the most suitable treatment, but will help you to understand when to call an ambulance in the future.