Knowing what to do in an emergency is important wherever you are in the world. Don't assume that just because you know the emergency contact numbers and protocols at home, you'll be equipped to get help quickly when you are traveling abroad.
Review this information before your trip and write down the key phone numbers or enter them into your smart phone before you leave home. That way, if you need a doctor or have to call the fire or police department in the United Kingdom, you'll know exactly what to do and how to get help for yourself or someone else quickly.
The Main Emergency Numbers
The emergency telephone number for all the main emergency services in the UK - police, fire, and ambulance - is 999.
In March 2014 a new number for medical information, 111, was introduced for urgent but not life-threatening medical advice. So if you aren't feeling well, can't make a doctor's appointment because you are traveling or don't know any doctors, but are not in a life threatening situation, dialing 111 will get you the medical information you need. So how can you tell whether you are in a life threatening situation? To begin with, the telephone operator at 111 will ask you a series of questions to determine your immediate condition and requirements.
If there is some reason for concern, he or she will pass you on to a triage nurse. At every step, the operator and nurse make sure they have your contact number so they can phone you back if necessary or if you are disconnected. If the triage nurse thinks there's even a remote possibility you may be in a life threatening situation he or she will send you to an emergency room or even send an ambulance to you. All these services are free but do remember that if you require further, non-emergency treatment, medications, a clinic visit or even a hospital admission, you will have to pay.
So make sure you have travellers insurance.
Other Medical Emergencies
There are several situations where you may need medical advice before or instead of calling emergency services. If you are taken ill with a medical emergency that doesn't require ambulance services or paramedics you can:
- Walk into any GP's office (they are known as GP's surgeries in the UK) during office hours. Most of a surgery's doctors will be handling booked appointments but there will usually be an on-call doctor to talk to.
- Go to a walk-in emergency medical center. You can usually find one of these at main rail stations and airports. They are run privately and charge fees but generally, you can just walk in without an appointment. Medicentre is a brand around London. The National Health (NHS) also runs walk-in medical centers, usually staffed by nurses and often part of hospital complexes. As with all NHS services available to visitors, only emergency treatment is free at the point of delivery. If you need a prescription, a follow-up visit or a hospital admission, you will need to pay or present your insurance documents.
- Visit a hospital emergency room. Hospital emergency rooms are called Accident and Emergency Units or A&E Departments in the UK. People may also refer to that part of a hospital as Casualty. Again, emergency medical treatment delivered in A&E or Casualty is free regardless of your nationality or country of residence. But if you are admitted or asked to come back for a clinic visit, you will have to pay full charges.
Dial 111 When You're Not Sure Where to Turn
Phone 111 (free from mobile phones or landlines) for urgent medical advice in non-life threatening situations. The trained adviser, supported by nurses and paramedics, will talk you through a questionnaire to determine what to do next. The recommendations that might be made range from providing you with a phone number to call, transferring you directly to appropriate medical help, advising you about out-of-hours doctors and late-night pharmacies, or making arrangements for an ambulance if that is required.
If you're not eligible for free medical care under the NHS, you will, again, have to pay for any follow-on services. But you won't have to pay for the advice you receive from this phone line or for the phone call itself. If you're a visitor, it really is the quickest way to find the medical help you might need.
Some hotels use private emergency doctors for guests who become ill while visiting the UK. This kind of doctor's visit can be costly and your insurance may not fully cover the expense. Instead, try to get to a nearby A&E unit where initial emergency treatment is free.