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Ambulance strikes: When to call 999 and when to call 111

More than 10,000 members of the GMB and UNISON unions are walking out (Danny Lawson / PA Wire)
More than 10,000 members of the GMB and UNISON unions are walking out (Danny Lawson / PA Wire)

Ambulance strikes are taking place today, February 6, following two days of strikes in January.

More than 10,000 members of the GMB and Unison unions are walking out in a dispute over pay, despite talks with the health secretary Steve Barclay last month.

GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said that there had been no meaningful talks for a month. She said: “The NHS is crumbling, people are dying and this government is dithering.”

In January, she said: "There was some engagement on pay – but not a concrete offer that could help resolve this dispute and make significant progress on the recruitment and retention crisis.

"The public expects the Government to treat these talks seriously – it’s time they got on with it.”

Find out below when someone should call 999 and when they should call the NHS 111 service instead.

When to call 999

Generally, people should only call 999 when they are seriously ill and their life is at risk.

Medical emergencies include the following:

  • loss of consciousness

  • a sudden confused state

  • fits that are not stopping

  • chest pain

  • breathing difficulties

  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped

  • severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)

  • severe burns or scalds

  • someone has seriously injured themselves or taken an overdose

People should also call 999 if someone is having a suspected heart attack or a stroke. The NHS says: “Every second counts with these conditions.”

Other emergencies include if someone has suffered a serious road-traffic accident, a stabbing, a shooting, a fall from height, or a serious head injury.

During the ambulance strikes, the NHS says: “Patients should only call 999 if seriously ill or injured, and there is risk to life. Ambulances will be dispatched where clinically appropriate.”

Ambulance Strike | January 2023

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When to call 111

Call 111 or use the NHS’s online 111 service if you need medical help now, but it’s not a life-threatening condition. The 111 service is also available via text relay by calling 18001 111, or via video for people who use British sign language (BSL).

Calling 111 means people can be directed to the most appropriate form of care for their situation. They may be advised to do one of the following:

  • call 999 or go to A&E in an emergency

  • go to an urgent treatment centre

  • see an evening and weekend GP (out-of-hours GP)

  • get a callback from a nurse

  • contact an emergency dentist or find a dentist

  • contact their own GP surgery

  • see a pharmacist for a minor illness or to get medicine

  • look after themselves safely at home

The NHS says: “Nobody should put off seeking emergency care. Key life-saving services are set to continue.

“Patients whose conditions are not life-threatening are likely to experience delays in accessing urgent care in affected trusts and during ambulance strikes.”