When to call 999

East Midlands Ambulance Service provides the 999 emergency medical response for the East Midlands, including Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire.

999 is the telephone number you should call when you need emergency medical assistance following a serious accident, illness or injury. For example, in the event of traumatic blood loss, chest pain or loss of consciousness. You should not call 999 if the situation is not an medical emergency. 

For general health enquiries you should contact your local GP practice, out-of-hours service, walk-in centre or pharmacist in the first instance. Alternatively, you can contact NHS 111 Online.

What happens when you call 999?

When you call 999, an operator will ask you which emergency service you need. You should only ask for the ambulance service if it is a medical emergency.

If you ask for an ambulance, you will be immediately connected to our Emergency Operations Centre. 

The first person you speak to will be an Emergency Medical Advisor. They will take details about the patient’s condition and location. They will use a system called NHS Pathways to help them decide what type of response is needed.

In the case of a life-threatening emergency (e.g. if the patient is not responsive or not breathing), our Emergency Operations Centre team will immediately begin arranging appropriate help. This will happen in the background while you are talking to the Emergency Medical Advisor.

If the patient’s condition is life-threatening, we will instantly pass the information to the nearest available ambulance crew so that they can travel to the patient as quickly as possible.

Answering all of the questions we ask on the telephone will not delay our response in a life-threatening emergency.

The Emergency Medical Advisor will need to know details about the patient’s condition. They may ask questions, such as:

  • The patient’s age and gender
  • Whether the patient is breathing or conscious
  • The type of injury and how it was sustained.

Asking these questions will not delay our response. Having relevant information about the patient's condition or injury helps us to determine the most appropriate response based on the patient’s needs.

All of the questions you answer will help the Emergency Medical Advisor determine the most appropriate medical response and care required.

Dispatching an ambulance

When the patient requires the skills and expertise of an ambulance crew and the equipment carried by an ambulance, the Emergency Medical Advisor will arrange for an ambulance to be sent.

Dispatching a fast response or community first responder

In some cases we will send a fast response car or a community first responder. They can get to the scene more quickly than a conventional ambulance and can start to provide care immediately. All EMAS staff and volunteers wear uniform and an identification badge to confirm who they are and what their role is at EMAS or the private ambulance service they work for.

Ongoing care

The Emergency Medical Advisor will provide advice on how to help the patient. If the condition is life-threatening they will usually stay on the phone with you until the emergency vehicle arrives.

If the patient's condition is not immediately life-threatening, you may be referred to our Clinical Assessment Team. The Clinical Assessment Team is made up of nurses, paramedics and mental health clinicians and is based in our Emergency Operations Centre. They may call you back to do further assessments and to offer additional medical advice.

When the ambulance and crew arrive on scene, they will assess the patient and determine the most appropriate treatment and care.

Care at a hospital

If necessary, the patient will be transported to a hospital Emergency Department or a specialist treatment centre (such as for head injuries, heart attacks or stroke).

Care on scene or at home

If an ambulance is dispatched, our crew member/s will assess the patient’s clinical condition when they arrive. Treatment will be given as needed at the scene.

Care in the community

If the patient’s condition is not life-threatening, the Emergency Medical Advisor may advise where the patient can receive appropriate treatment locally. This may be at an urgent treatment centre, or a pharmacy. Patients will only be referred to alternative services if, with the information we have received about the patient’s condition, it is deemed clinically appropriate and safe to do so.

After attending to the patient, our staff will make sure that their equipment and vehicle is clean, stocked and ready to respond to another 999 call.

Non-life-threatening situations

Our crewed ambulances exist to respond to medical emergencies. They are a precious resource and must be used to respond to patients in the region with the highest medical needs. If it is not appropriate to send an ambulance, we will provide an alternative means of supporting the patient’s medical needs. This could include:

  • A call back with our Clinical Assessment Team – a team of nurses, paramedics and mental health clinicians based in our Emergency Operations Centre
  • Referring you to a community-based care service, such as an urgent treatment centre, GP, or pharmacy
  • Providing at-home care advice.