Moving to a new country can be an exciting yet overwhelming experience. One crucial aspect that migrants need to familiarize themselves with is the emergency medical services available in their new homeland. The United Kingdom offers a well-structured healthcare system, and understanding how it works is essential for migrants’ well-being. In this article, we’ll delve into all you need to know about Emergency Medical Services in the UK, addressing crucial information, eligibility, access, and frequently asked questions.
Emergency care services in the UK’s NHS system
Emergency care services in the UK’s NHS system play a critical role in keeping the population healthy. The NHS responds to more than 110 million urgent calls or visits every year, so it is essential that the system works effectively. Both urgent and emergency care services play a specific part in supporting patients to receive the right care, by the right person, as quickly as possible. Emergency care involves life-threatening illnesses or accidents which require immediate treatment from the ambulance service (via 999) and an emergency department (A&E) . Urgent care, on the other hand, is for illnesses or injuries that are not life-threatening but still require prompt attention, such as minor burns, cuts, and fractures.
All individuals, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status, are eligible to access primary, emergency, and compulsory psychiatric care, free of charge in the UK’s NHS system. Coverage for secondary care services, however, is only available for those who are ordinarily resident. Emergency medical services in the UK are predominantly provided free at the point of use by the four National Health Services (NHS) of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The NHS commissions most emergency medical services through the 14 NHS organizations with ambulance responsibility across the UK (11 in England, one each in the other three countries).
The NHS is aiming to move to a paperless system across primary, urgent, and emergency care services by 2020. Maximum waiting times have been set for cancer treatment, elective treatments, and emergency treatment. A website, NHS Evidence, provides professionals and patients with up-to-date clinical guidelines. Information on the quality of services at the organization, department, and (for some procedures) physician levels is published on the NHS website.
Importance of migrants understanding how to access emergency care
Understanding how to access emergency care is crucial for migrants for several reasons:
- Limited knowledge of the healthcare system: Migrants may come from countries with different healthcare systems, making it challenging for them to navigate the UK’s NHS system. Knowing how to access emergency care ensures that they can receive timely and appropriate treatment when needed.
- Language and cultural barriers: Migrants may face language barriers when seeking healthcare, which can hinder their ability to communicate their symptoms and understand medical instructions. Understanding how to access emergency care can help migrants overcome these barriers and receive the necessary medical attention.
- Limited access to primary care: Studies have shown that migrants tend to use emergency health services more frequently and for lower acuity conditions compared to non-migrants. This may be due to barriers in accessing primary care. By understanding how to access emergency care, migrants can receive appropriate care even if they face challenges in accessing primary care services.
- Legal entitlements: Migrants may have concerns about their eligibility for healthcare services. However, it is important to note that emergency medical services in the UK are predominantly provided free at the point of use by the NHS. Migrants, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status, are eligible to access emergency care services. Knowing their entitlements can help migrants feel more confident in seeking emergency care when needed.
Calling an Ambulance
When to call 999 for an ambulance:
- Call 999 for an ambulance in an emergency situation where someone’s life is at risk or someone is seriously injured or ill.
- Examples of emergency situations include chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe bleeding, unconsciousness, and suspected stroke.
Providing key details to emergency dispatcher:
When calling 999 for an ambulance, provide the following key details to the emergency dispatcher.
- The location of the emergency (including the postcode if possible)
- The phone number you are calling from
- Details of the condition of the person who needs the ambulance
- Any relevant medical history or information that could help the ambulance crew
Ambulance response times and prioritization:
- Ambulance services in the UK are measured by the time it takes from receiving a 999 call to a vehicle arriving at the patient’s location.
- All calls are triaged into four categories according to the patient’s condition, and ambulances are expected to reach people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries in an average time of seven minutes.
- The ‘clock’ only stops when the most appropriate response arrives on scene, rather than the first.
- In January 2023, NHS England published a plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services, which includes improving ambulance response times by increasing ambulance capacity.
- Over 800 new ambulances are expected to be made available in 2023/24, the majority of which should become operational before winter.
- Additionally, better forecasting of call demand and improved clinical assessment of calls was also in the pipeline to ensure faster access to care.
Role of hospital A&E for emergencies
- A&E (Accident and Emergency) departments in hospitals are designed to provide immediate care for major, life-threatening illnesses, and injuries.
- They are equipped with staff and resources to handle all emergencies.
- A&E departments operate 24 hours a day, every day, ensuring that emergency care is available at any time.
Finding and getting to your nearest A&E:
- In the UK, you can find your nearest A&E department by using the NHS website or calling NHS 111 for non-emergency medical advice.
- If it is a life-threatening emergency, call 999 for an ambulance or go directly to the nearest A&E department.
- Ambulance crews can transport patients to A&E, and walking into A&E is also an option.
- When arriving at A&E, you will need to register and provide some basic information, such as your name, address, and the reason for your visit.
What to expect in A&E (triage, waiting, treatment):
- Upon arrival at A&E, patients are triaged, which means they are assessed to determine the urgency of their condition.
- Triage helps prioritize patients based on the severity of their illness or injury, ensuring that those in critical condition receive immediate attention.
- The waiting time in A&E can vary depending on the severity of your condition and the number of patients being treated.
- While arriving by ambulance does not always mean you’ll be seen sooner, the ambulance crew will provide your details to the A&E reception.
- Once you are seen by a healthcare professional, they will provide appropriate treatment based on your condition.
- A&E departments have the necessary resources and expertise to handle a wide range of emergencies, from minor injuries to life-threatening situations.
NHS 111 Helpline
Purpose of NHS 111 for medical advice and information:
- NHS 111 is a free helpline service that provides medical advice and information to people who need urgent healthcare but are not in a life-threatening situation.
- The service is staffed by trained clinicians, such as nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and paramedics, who can provide advice and guidance over the phone.
- The aim of NHS 111 is to make it easier and quicker for patients to get the right advice or treatment they need, be that for their physical or mental health.
Calling 111 for guidance on urgent care:
- If you need medical help right now, you can call 111 for guidance on urgent care.
- Depending on your needs, you might be advised to call 999 or go to A&E in an emergency, go to an urgent treatment center, see an evening and weekend GP (out-of-hours GP), book a callback from a nurse, get urgent specialist support for dental or mental health problems, contact your own GP surgery, see a pharmacist for help with a minor illness, or look after yourself safely at home.
- NHS 111 clinicians and call advisors can give patients the advice they need without using another service such as their GP or A&E.
Outcomes of 111 call – self-care, appointments, ambulance:
- The outcomes of a 111 call can vary depending on the patient’s condition and needs.
- Patients may be advised to self-care, make an appointment with their GP, or seek further medical attention at an urgent care center or A&E.
- If the patient’s condition is serious or life-threatening, NHS 111 can send an ambulance to transport them to the nearest hospital.
- NHS 111 can also book patients in to be seen at their local A&E / emergency department or an urgent treatment center, emergency dental services, pharmacy, or another more appropriate local service.
Walk-in Centers and Urgent Care Clinics
Locating walk-in centers and urgent care clinics:
- Walk-in centers and urgent care clinics are available for injuries and illnesses needing same-day care.
- These clinics offer fast and convenient access to medical care, with no appointment necessary.
- To locate walk-in centers and urgent care clinics, you can search online for locations near you.
- Some clinics allow you to reserve a spot online, which can help reduce waiting times.
Services offered and waiting times:
- Walk-in centers and urgent care clinics offer a range of services, including treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, vaccinations, and health screenings.
- Some clinics have on-site lab and x-ray equipment, allowing them to handle more severe urgent care services, such as broken bones and burns.
- Waiting times can vary depending on the clinic and the number of patients being treated.
- Some clinics offer online reservation systems, which can help reduce waiting times.
GP Services for Urgent Issues
Making same-day/emergency GP appointments:
- Patients can call their GP practice to request an emergency appointment, and the practice will do their best to accommodate the patient’s needs
- Some practices have implemented ‘triage systems’ in which a clinician will assess each request for an appointment and determine when and by which member of the primary care team the patient should be seen.
Out-of-hours GP services nights and weekends:
- Out-of-hours GP services are available for urgent medical issues that cannot wait until the next day.
- Patients can call their GP practice to be redirected to the out-of-hours service or call NHS 111 for advice.
- Out-of-hours GP services are staffed by doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who can provide advice and treatment.
- These services operate during evenings, weekends, and bank holidays when GP practices are closed.
Charges and Payments
Emergency care in A&E is free at the point of use for all individuals, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status. However, some migrants may receive a bill for treatment after they have been discharged from the hospital. Migrants who are not ordinarily resident in the UK may be charged for some NHS services, including non-emergency treatment. Urgent care clinics and walk-in centers may charge for their services, but the fees are typically lower than those charged by A&E departments. Some clinics offer ‘prompt pay’ rates for uninsured patients, which can help reduce the cost of urgent care. Patients who are concerned about the cost of urgent care can contact NHS England or Doctors of the World for help.
Tips for Migrants
- Have ID and proof of address/status on you: Migrants should carry identification documents and proof of their address and immigration status with them at all times. . This can help ensure that they receive the appropriate healthcare services and avoid any potential billing issues.
- Know your NHS rights and entitlements: Migrants should familiarize themselves with their NHS rights and entitlements. The NHS provides free emergency care to everyone, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status. However, some migrants may be charged for non-emergency treatment. . Knowing their rights and entitlements can help migrants access the appropriate healthcare services.
- Ask for a translator if needed: Migrants who have limited English proficiency should ask for a translator when accessing healthcare services. This can help ensure that they receive the appropriate care and understand medical instructions.
- Carry health insurance, if applicable: Migrants who are not ordinarily resident in the UK may want to consider carrying health insurance to cover the cost of non-emergency healthcare services. This can help avoid unexpected medical bills.
Migrants in the UK have access to a range of emergency care options, and it is important for them to know how to access these services. Migrants should carry identification documents and proof of their address and immigration status with them at all times, familiarize themselves with their NHS rights and entitlements, ask for a translator if needed, and consider carrying health insurance if they are not ordinarily resident in the UK. Emergency care in A&E is free at the point of use for all individuals, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status, but some migrants may receive a bill for treatment after they have been discharged from the hospital. Out-of-hours GP services are also available for urgent medical issues that cannot wait until the next day.