rich emollient used in the management of eczema, psoriasis and other dry skin conditions.


The NHS is struggling to cope. It has stretched funds and increasing demand, and the UK’s ambulance service and Accident and Emergency Departments need your help to avoid total overload. The national target for an ambulance is 8 minutes, but most patients wait far longer than this, even in life-threatening emergencies. This means that first aid skills are more important than ever and can be key to survival.

It is important both to be able to prioritise appropriately and only use these limited resources when absolutely necessary and to equip yourself with the skills to be able to administer first aid whilst waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

To avoid overloading the emergency services, it is vital to be able to have the skills and knowledge to recognise when someone is seriously ill or hurt and whether it is better to call an ambulance, go straight to A&E or calmly visit your GP.

The following information aims to help you with this critical decision:

If the casualty is particularly vulnerable, for example an elderly person, baby or very young child and you are seriously concerned – always call an ambulance. Children and older people often mask serious symptoms and their condition can then quickly deteriorate and therefore it is important they receive immediate medical attention. 

The decision you make will vary from case to case, but we would strongly advise you to administer First Aid and call an ambulance if someone:

  • Appears not to be breathing.
  • Is having chest pain, difficulty breathing or feeling weak, numb or struggling to speak.
  • Is experiencing severe bleeding that you are unable to stop by applying direct pressure on the wound.
  • Is struggling for breath, possibly breathing in a strange way appearing to ‘suck in’ below their rib cage as they use their accessory muscles to help them breathe.
  • Is unconscious or unaware of what is going on around them.
  • Has a fit for the first time, even if they seem to completely recover.
  • If they are having a severe allergic reaction accompanied by difficulty in breathing or collapse – always get an ambulance to come to you.
  • If a child is burnt and the burn is severe enough to need dressing – treat the burn under cool running water and call an ambulance. Keep cooling the burn until the paramedics arrive and look out for signs of shock.
  • If someone has fallen from a height, been hit by something travelling at speed (like a car) or been hit with force and there is a possibility of a spinal injury.

You don’t get seen any faster in A&E if you arrive by ambulance – you will undergo the same triage assessment in the same way, as anyone else entering the department.

Take someone straight to A&E if they have:

  • A fever and are floppy and lethargic.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • A cut that is gaping or losing a lot of blood, if they have amputated a finger or if there is something embedded in the wound.
  • A leg or arm injury and can’t use the limb.
  • Swallowed poison or tablets and are not showing any adverse effects (calling 111 can also give you advice from the poisons database – if they are behaving strangely or experiencing any symptoms from the poison; call an ambulance immediately).

Go to your Family Doctor:

For less serious and non-life-threatening medical concerns, you contact your GP or phone 111 for medical advice.

Most importantly – trust your instincts. If you are seriously worried, administer First Aid and get medical help quickly.

It is strongly advised that you attend a practical or online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit, email or telephone 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.

First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.


Emma Hammett

Emma is a qualified nurse and award-winning first aid trainer with over 30 years’ healthcare and teaching experience. Emma is the Founder of the multi-award-winning First Aid for Life and She has published multiple books and is an acknowledged First Aid expert and authority on accident prevention, health and first aid. Emma writes for numerous online and print publications and regularly features in the press, on the radio and on TV. Emma's initial motivation for First Aid for Life came about when nursing and in particular when working in the Burns unit. Emma was looking after a little boy who was badly scalded and needed skin grafts – his mum had panicked when the accident happened and had not known what to do. Had his mother immediately run the injury under cool running water, he may not even have needed medical treatment. Emma was desperate to empower more people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to help in a medical emergency and started First Aid for Life. Emma's mission and the goal of is to make it as easy as possible for people to access first aid skills, removing barriers to learning; such as time, money and geography and consequently train more people and save lives. Her books, online courses, free resources and frequent press appearances raise awareness of the importance of first aid and ensure these skills become accessible to more people.

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