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When to call 111 NHS if you need medical help

Need medical help but it’s not an emergency?

If you live in England or Scotland, call 111 - it’s free from landlines and mobile phones in the UK. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You will speak to a highly-trained adviser who will ask you a series of questions to assess the symptoms that you are experiencing. They will either give you the healthcare advice that you require or they will direct you immediately to the local service that can help you best.

NHS 111 advisers are supported by healthcare professionals - experienced nurses and paramedics.

When should you call 111?

  • You need medical help fast, but it’s not a 999 emergency;

  • You don’t know who to call for medical help or you don’t have a GP to call;

  • You think you need to go to A&E or another NHS urgent care service but are not sure which one is most appropriate; or

  • You require health advice or reassurance about what to do next.

If the adviser thinks you need an ambulance, having assessed your symptoms, they will send one right away.

When should you call 999?

Call 999 when there is a life-threatening emergency - when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.

Medical emergencies can include:

  • loss of consciousness

  • an acute confused state

  • fits that are not stopping

  • persistent, severe chest pain

  • breathing difficulties

  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped

  • severe allergic reactions

  • severe burns or scalds

Call 999 immediately if you or someone else is having a heart attack or stroke.

Every second counts with these conditions.

Also call 999 if you think someone has had a major trauma.

Major trauma is often the result of a serious road traffic accident, a stabbing, a shooting, a fall from height, or a serious head injury.

At other times contact your local GP practice. Alternatively, find your nearest NHS walk-in centre. These are run by medical professionals and will advise and assist with minor illnesses or injuries.

The 111 service is a great help to our emergency services. Non-emergency calls that may have previously been made to the 999 operator can now be made to 111 so only genuine emergency calls are dealt with.

The 111 service is not only a boon members of the public, it also helps the NHS itself as well as the country as a whole. If health issues are addressed more quickly:

  • members of the public spend less time unwell,

  • employees and businesses benefit from fewer and shorter absences due to sickness,

  • students and children experience less interruption to their studies,

  • the NHS itself is under less pressure at all levels, from GP practices through to hospital services, as illnesses and injuries are treated promptly.

Do other countries have a 111 service?

The NHS 111 service is provided our National Health Service and is only available in the UK. It is free to everyone.

If you are going abroad, be prepared and make sure that you know the numbers of the emergency services for the countries that you are visiting. And be aware that in New Zealand dialling 111 will connect you with the emergency services - the same as our 999.

The European Union is developing a system of freephone numbers for the social needs of EU citizens. This overall service is called a Harmonised System of Social Value and includes several 6-digit freephone numbers beginning 116 assigned to different social needs, such as a Hotline for Missing Children and a Helpline for Victims of Crime.

The number 116117 has been assigned to a Non-emergency Medical On-call Service but at present it has only been implemented in Austria and Germany.

If you are visiting a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you can apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay. For more information about what is covered in each of these countries, see the NHS country-by-country guide.

In the USA there is the Medicaid social health care programme for families and individuals with limited resources, expanded by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”); also the Medicare single-payer, national social insurance programme administered by the US federal government for Americans aged 65 and over. Medicaid is managed by individual states and the services offered, including telephone helplines, will vary between states.

Medicare services are provided by private insurance companies and the services offered will vary between these companies. There is no nationwide service that is similar to NHS 111 but The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion does provide a list of Toll-Free Numbers for Health Information.

Do I need an expensive pendant alarm?

Many companies in the private healthcare sector as well as local authorities (outsourced to private companies) offer pendant alarms as an emergency solution worn by elderly and vulnerable people who live alone.

Pendant alarms provide wearers and their families assurance that if they have an accident or other emergency, help is available at the touch of a button.

Most of these alarms are devices that have a range that is restricted to in and around the wearer’s home - they will not work away from the home environment.

Exceptions to these are alarm apps that function within a mobile phone or smartphone, or devices that have a SIM card and roaming capability built-in.

Most pendant alarms will not call the emergency services directly, if they did why would you need and pay for a call centre / monitoring centre?

In the first instance they will link the wearer to a monitoring call centre. The trained call centre operator will then take the most appropriate action. This may be to call or message a person within the wearer’s pre-defined list of emergency contacts or contact the emergency services directly.

Some providers of pendant alarms will provide additional services such as their own response team, but these will attract a premium subscription rate, and are nearly as rare as unicorns, most councils and public authorities that did offer this service 13 years ago have withdrawn them due to central government funding cuts.

If a pendant alarm wearer has a non-emergency health question, they can call NHS 111 themselves from their landline or mobile phone, or someone in their contact circle can call on their behalf.

Alarms linked to call centers are ideal for those cases where the company providing the service will come out and visit and pick the person up or take them to hospital ,they will need a safe-key to gain access to the house.

Alternative to an expensive pendant alarm?

If a telecare emergency medical pendant alarm provider does not provide a service that comes to your home, then by simply carrying a landline telephone handset (cordless phone), a mobile phone or smartphone should be enough as ultimately you can call 111 or 999 yourself.

My SOS Family emergency alert app allows you to press a single button, whilst your phone is calling 999 emergency services the automated emergency response call service phones and texts your emergency contacts asking them to become a first responder, this gives you the added benefit knowing if there is any delay in response from emergency services you have a back-up.



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