What happens when you call 999?

When you call 999 you will be put through to the operator who will ask you what service you need. If you ask for an ambulance you will be put through to your local ambulance service and a call assessor will ask you a number of questions. It is vitally important that you stay calm, listen carefully and answer the questions we ask fully. If we ask you to repeat an answer, it’s to ensure we have the correct information. If you don’t understand a question, say so. Initially, you will be asked the following questions:

  1. Is the patient breathing?
  2. Is the patient conscious? 
  3. What is the address of the emergency?
  4. What number are you calling from?
  5. What is the reason for the call?

Answering these questions will NOT delay help, but it will help us give you important first aid advice while our staff are on their way. Every call that we receive is triaged to decide what is the most appropriate response to your call.  We need as much information as possible from you about the patient’s condition as this will help us assess what response to make.  The extra information also helps us to make sure you get the most appropriate help. The better the understanding of the patient’s condition, the better our staff will be able to help you.

Not all calls require an ambulance. Some 999 calls can be dealt with by our Clinical Validation Team (CVT) in our Emergency Operations Centre, who can discuss the patient’s condition further. CVT is a team of healthcare professionals, specially trained to help patients who have called 999 needing medical help. Around 25% of all 999 calls we receive go to CVT. Out of those calls 60% of patients do not require an ambulance. Instead CVT is able to find alternative care pathways, ensuring patients are given the right help, at the right time and in the right place.

What does this sound like in real life?

Here’s an example showing you what two 999 calls would look like in a category 1 call (a life-threatening medical emergency) and a category 3 call (urgent but not life-threatening medical emergency) situation. Knowing what to expect can give you an insight into all of the work going on behind the scenes in order to arrange the most appropriate care for the patient.

What can I do before help arrives?

If you are unfortunate enough to have to call 999, there are a number of things that you can do to assist our staff.

  • If you are in the street, stay with the patient until the ambulance crew arrives
  • Call us back on 999 if the patient’s condition changes or your location changes
  • If you are calling from work, ask someone to open the doors and signal where the ambulance staff are needed
  • If you are at home, please make sure that we are able to identify your house easily – is the house name or number clearly visible? If it is at night, make sure lights are on so that we can identify your house more easily
  • Lock away any family pets
  • If you can, write down the patient’s GP details and collect any medication that they are taking
  • Tell us if the patient has any allergies
  • Although it may not be easy, please try to stay calm – we’re here to help

How can I prepare for an emergency?

There are a number of simple things you can do today to help us in the future to ensure we aren’t delayed in getting help to you:

  • Check that your house number can be visibly seen from the road.
  • If you live on an estate, check there is a clear sign to direct emergency services and, if you live in a flat, ensure that all lifts are working.
  • If it’s dark outside, turn on your outside light to help our staff to find you quickly.

Let’s speak to some of our Emergency Operations Centre staff, to find out more about the different roles in the Centre.

Here’s Amy talking about her role as a Call Assessor.
Here’s Rich and Carol talking about their roles in the Dispatch team.