What happens when you call 999?

When you ask for the ambulance service, our call handlers will ask you a number of questions.  Every call that we receive is ‘triaged’.  This is where we decide what is the most appropriate response to your call.  Not all calls require an ambulance to be sent.  Initially, you will be asked four questions:

  1. Is the patient breathing?
  2. What address are you calling from?
  3. What number are you calling from (in case you get cut off and we need to call you back)?
  4. What is the reason for the 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. Answering these questions will not delay us, but it will help us give you important first aid advice while our staff are on their way. 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 a traditional ambulance to be sent.  Sometimes a paramedic in a rapid response car will be dispatched.  On other occasions, you will be passed to an experienced paramedic who will discuss what to do next.  For example they may refer you to your GP, a walk-in centre or simply give you advice.  Our staff are very experienced in ensuring that you get the right help, at the right time and in the right place.

Help us to help you

If you are unfortunate enough to have to dial 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 help 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

Please use 999 appropriately:

You don’t need an ambulance if you’ve lost your keys. A scary hedgehog doesn’t equate to a medical emergency. If you need a lift home after a night out in the pub, call a taxi, not 999. As part of an awareness campaign, we released audio clips from 999 calls to highlight the shocking examples of inappropriate calls. Jeremy Brown, West Midlands Ambulance Service’s General Manager responsible for Emergency Operations Centres, said:

My control room staff are currently dealing with around 3,000 999 calls a day. Despite us being an ‘emergency service’, it’s truly shocking what people consider to be appropriate to call 999 for.

We’re here for genuine life-threatening emergencies such as chest pains, cardiac arrests and difficulties breathing.”

Call 999 in a medical emergency – when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk. Medical emergencies can include:

Listen to these three examples of inappropriate 999 calls we’ve received versus genuinely life-threatening cases. It’s not difficult to spot the real emergency.

This video is hosted on an external website – YouTube

This video is hosted on an external website – YouTube

This video is hosted on an external website – YouTube