Home Healthcare Healthcare Basics Emergency phone numbers in the UK
Last update on November 02, 2020
Stephen Maunder Written by Stephen Maunder

An emergency can happen at any time, and if you’re in an unfamiliar country you might not be sure of the best course of action to take. Thankfully, there’s an emergency number in the UK for almost any incident you’ll encounter.

This guide outlines the main emergency phone numbers in the United Kingdom, as well as details of the main emergency services in the UK.

What to do in an emergency in the United Kingdom

If you witness a medical emergency in the UK, you should call 999 immediately from any phone to speak to the emergency services. Upon connecting, the call handler will ask you a series of questions. If the emergency is considered life-threatening, they will arrange to send an ambulance.

Ambulances in front of a hospital in Bath, England

If the medical emergency isn’t life-threatening but is still urgent, you can call the National Health Service (NHS) on 111 for advice on what to do next. Further steps may include speaking to a nurse, pharmacist, or general practitioner (GP), or setting up a face-to-face appointment.

Alternatively, you can visit your local hospital’s Accident and Emergency (A&E) department at an NHS urgent care center.

Calling the right emergency number in the UK

The UK’s emergency services phone number (999) has dealt with record numbers of phone calls in recent years. Altogether, 25 million 999 calls were made in 2000; by 2018, this figure rose to nearly 33 million.

You should only call 999 in a genuine medical emergency. When you call, you’ll be asked whether you require fire, police, or ambulance services. When you give your answer, you’ll be transferred to a call handler, who asks you specific questions about the nature of the emergency and the patient’s condition.

These questions include asking you to detail the location and nature of the emergency, as well as providing key information such as the age, gender, and medical history of the patient, as well as whether they”re conscious, breathing, or bleeding.

The information will be shared with a dispatcher, who will decide the best course of action and the priority of the emergency. For example, if an ambulance is required, the dispatcher will determine whether a normal ambulance, rapid response car, paramedic, or air ambulance is required.

If the situation is determined to be non-life-threatening, the dispatcher may advise you to attend the hospital, your local doctor surgery, or pharmacist instead.

Categorizing emergencies

The categories of severity used by dispatchers when you dial an emergency number in the UK are as follows:

  • One: life-threatening injuries and illnesses, such as cardiac arrests. The average response time is seven minutes.
  • Two: emergency calls, such as stroke patients. The average response time is 18 minutes.
  • Three: urgent calls such as abdominal pains and patients who can be treated in their own homes. The average response time is up to 120 minutes.
  • Four: less urgent calls such as vomiting, diarrhea, or back pain. These are sometimes treated with telephone advice or referrals to other services. The average response time is up to 180 minutes.

It’s possible to contact the emergency services by text if you can’t make a voice call, but you must register with the emergency SMS service first. Text ‘register’ to 999 to register.

Fire services in the United Kingdom

If you see a fire, you should always call 999 to speak to the fire brigade, even if the fire is small or you’re not 100% sure it’s an emergency. Don’t contact your local fire station, and don’t assume someone else already called.

The London Fire Brigade says you should get out immediately and call 999 upon seeing a fire. They aim to arrive within six minutes.

When you call, you’ll be put through to the fire control room. The nearest fire engine with the necessary equipment is dispatched.

You’ll be asked several questions, including the postcode where the fire is taking place (if you don’t have the postcode, then use the street name or a local landmark instead). The operator will ask if anyone might be trapped in the building.

Police in the United Kingdom

In the UK, the police offer a range of services, from dealing with crime to community support and policing local and large-scale events.

You should only contact the police on 999 if there’s a genuine emergency. The police service advises you ask yourself the following questions before deciding if a situation is an emergency:

  • Is someone in immediate danger?
  • Do you need support right away?
  • Could the situation could become heated or violent?

For minor issues, you should either call the non-emergency phone number 101 or report the crime online. If your local force doesn’t provide online reporting, you will instead need to call or visit your local police station.

Police in the UK

Types of crimes you should call 101 for include things like antisocial behavior, local drug use, possible criminal activities nearby, property damage, or stolen items.

There are also some specialist phone numbers for specific crimes:

  • Anti-terrorist hotline: 0800 789 321 or online
  • Crimestoppers (to report crimes anonymously): 0800 555 111 or online
  • Action Fraud (for fraud or cybercrime) – 0300 123 2040 or online
  • British Transport Police (for incidents on trains or tubes): 0800 40 50 40 or online

Calling the right health emergency number in the UK

It isn’t necessary to call 999 for minor health issues or accidents. If the issue is urgent, you should either call 111, attend your local hospital’s A&E department, or visit a local urgent treatment center.

111

If you call 111, you can get information on finding the right local service to help you with your medical issue. Operators ask a series of questions and offer a range of support, which can include:

  • Connecting you to a nurse, emergency dentist, GP, or pharmacist
  • Arranging a face-to-face appointment
  • Advising you on how to get the correct medicine
  • Offering self-care advice

Calling 111 is a good way to get expert advice on your care options if you’re not sure what to do.

A&E

Large hospitals in the UK generally contain an Accident and Emergency Department (A&E). Theoretically, A&E is for more serious emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, stroke, chest pain, breathing difficulties, or severe burns. People also attend with things like sporting injuries and suspected broken bones.

If you go to A&E by ambulance, the crew provides details to reception. When you attend with a non-life-threatening or serious condition, you’ll need to register and your issue is prioritized by the A&E staff.

Afterward, you’ll receive a triage assessment by a nurse or doctor. This is designed to ensure people with the most serious conditions are seen first. Following this, you might be admitted to the hospital, transferred to a relevant department, or discharged.

When visiting A&E, waiting times can be lengthy. Hospitals target four hours from arrival, but those with minor injuries often need to wait longer.

Find your local A&E on the NHS website.

Urgent treatment centers

Urgent treatment centers are suitable for people with minor injuries (such as sprains, strains, suspected broken bones, cuts, grazes, bites, and stings) and minor health complaints (such as suspected infections, coughs or colds, vomiting, and diarrhea).

Treatment centers are managed by GPs and are usually open for 12 hours a day. As with A&E, you must register on arrival. The center then prioritizes your case depending on its urgency.

You can find your local urgent treatment center on the NHS website.

Finding a mental health emergency number in the UK

The NHS provides free mental health services in the UK, but you might need a referral from your doctor to access help.

Firstly, visit your GP, who will be able to offer suitable advice or a referral to a specialist mental health expert. Depending on the nature of your issue, your next appointment may be at the GP’s surgery, a local health center, or at a specialist mental health clinic.

If you have an urgent mental health emergency, you should get immediate support by calling the NHS mental health helpline 24 hours a day to speak to a professional. The NHS has an online tool where you can find your local urgent helpline number. In a serious mental health emergency, call 999 as you would with any other medical issue.

If you need to talk about a mental health concern, there are some government-recommended services available.

  • Samaritans is operated by trained volunteers and offers a confidential listening service for people who need someone to talk to. Contact Samaritans at 116 123 or [email protected]
  • The mental health charity Mind offers lots of great resources, including helplines and crisis coping tools.
  • Shout offers assistance by text 24 hours a day. Text 85258 to speak to a trained volunteer.
  • If you’re aged under 19, you can contact Childline on 0800 1111 for advice and mental health support.

Drug and alcohol services in the United Kingdom

If you are worried about a drug or alcohol problem, you can get help from the NHS as with any other medical issue. Firstly, contact your GP to discuss your issues and get advice on the best course of treatment.

If you’re not comfortable discussing it with your GP, call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600 or find your local counseling and treatment services on the Frank website.

Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline, which can be contacted confidentially on 0300 123 1110. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can also offer free help.

The Adfam website details a range of alcohol and drug support services.

Children and family services in the UK

Domestic violence or abuse

Child abuse

  • Local council: use the government’s online tool to report child abuse to your local council.
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center: the UK’s national police agency for child protection. You can also report any concerns online.
  • NSPCC: children’s charity that campaigns for child protection and supports victims of abuse.
  • Stop It Now: child protection charity with a confidential helpline.
  • Citizens Advice: provides a guide to reporting suspected child abuse and getting support.

Crime-related services in the United Kingdom

Sexual violence

Terrorism

  • Anti-Terrorism Hotline: 0800 789 321 or report online.
  • Government: an online tool for reporting illegal or harmful content found online.
  • MI5: report details to the security service online or by telephone on 0800 111 4645.

Fraud

  • Action Fraud: the government’s fraud reporting agency. Report online or by calling 0300 123 2040.

Hate crime

  • True Vision: report hate crime online to your local police.

Utility and telecommunications services in the United Kingdom

  • Gas: call the emergency number provided by the National Grid in the UK if you can smell gas – 0800 111 999.
  • Electricity: report a power cut by calling UK Power Networks at 0800 31 63 105 or online.
  • Flood: for water leaks, contact your provider. If you’re concerned about flooding, call Floodline at 0345 988 1188 or you can also report a flood online.

LGBTQ+ services in the United Kingdom

  • LGBT Foundation: charity offering advice and support.
  • Stonewall: charity campaigning for LGBT equality.
  • Government: advice and key support contacts for LGBT people.

Homelessness services in the United Kingdom

  • Shelter: charity offering homelessness support services as well as an online tool to contact your council to ask for housing help.
  • Crisis: charity offering housing and education support for homeless people. Housing support available at 020 7426 5685.

Animal services in the United Kingdom

  • Government: report a dead or injured animal online.
  • Animal welfare charities: RSPCA (England and Wales), SSPCA (Scotland), USPCA (Northern Ireland).
  • PDSA: advice on what to do if your pet goes missing.

Tourist services in the United Kingdom

Lost or stolen property in the United Kingdom

  • Government: cancel a lost or stolen passport or driving license online.
  • Lost or stolen bank cards: many major banks will let you report lost or stolen cards on their mobile banking app. If this isn’t possible, you’ll need to call them directly. Numbers include Barclays (0800 400 100), HSBC (0345 600 7010), Lloyds Bank (0800 096 9779), Natwest (0370 600 0459), Nationwide (0345 600 6611), Santander (0800 9 123 123).

Europe-wide emergency numbers

If you have an emergency anywhere in Europe, you can call 112 from any phone to speak to the emergency services. If you call 112 in the UK, it’ll take you through to the same emergency services center as if you call 999.

Useful resources: find an emergency number in the UK