Advice from East of England NHS ambulance service

Including how to make the ‘Right Call’, the 111 service…

Make the right call

The ambulance services deals with thousands of calls every day. 999 is there to help people with life threatening or very serious medical emergencies, whether illness or accident, who require immediate medical care and need to go to hospital quickly.

There has been a lot of publicity about ambulance services having an eight minute target and many people think this applies to all calls about anything and everything. It doesn’t. The ambulance service target is to reach 75% of patients with life threatening or serious medical emergencies in eight minutes-just 20% of the total number of 999 calls received. For more advice on making the right call, including a myth buster section and frequently asked questions, go to campaigns section on

What happens when I call 999?

If you need emergency medical help call 999. Your call goes to a central operator who asks which emergency service you need. If you say “ambulance” you will be immediately transferred to the ambulance call centre nearest to you. Staff there are employed by the ambulance services, and are highly trained.

You should only call 999 in an emergency- for example, when someone’s life is at risk or someone is seriously injured or critically ill

The questions they ask will make sure you receive the right response:

  • Where you are calling from and why you are calling
  • If the patient is awake and breathing, please do not mislead the call handler by saying the patient is unconscious if they are alert
  • All questions are relevant. Please answer as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstanding.
  • The call handler needs to find out as much as possible, their questions do not delay a response
  • For the most serious calls a vehicle is automatically sent within 30 seconds.
  • Calls to all UK ambulance services are graded and allocated response times ranging from 20 minutes to an hour.
  • Not all calls get an emergency response (ambulance or rapid response vehicle).
  • The most minor cases, where patients can get to A & E without an ambulance, or see a doctor, visit a walk in centre or pharmacist, will be given advice over the telephone.
  • Sometimes you will be passed to clinical triage desk and a clinician (paramedics or nurse) will go through the patient’s symptoms again.

If you need medical help or advice quickly, but it is not life threatening- call 111

What is 111?

When you call 111, a trained adviser will ask you questions to find out what’s wrong, give you medical advice and direct you to someone who can help you. That could be an out of hours GP, an urgent care centre, a walk in centre or a community nurse.

If the adviser thinks your condition is more serious they will direct you to hospital or send an ambulance. You can call 111 any time of the day. The call is free from landlines and mobiles. If you don’t speak English tell the adviser what language you want to speak and they will get you an interpreter.

Call 111 if you need medical help fast, but it is not life threatening. For example:

  • You are not sure whether you should go to hospital.
  • You do not know who to call for medical help
  • Your GP surgery is closed- in the evening or at the weekend.
  • You do not have a GP to call.
  • You need medical advice or reassurance about what to do next.

For more information on the NHS 111 service please visit