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When to call an ambulance

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    It is incredibly difficult to judge whether the medical emergency in front of us, is sufficiently life threatening to warrant an ambulance, or if we would be better to drive them to A&E or to go to the GP. Attending a First Aid course will give you far more knowledge and confidence if faced with a medical emergency.

    The following information aims to help you with this extremely important decision:

    If you are dealing with an emergency with an elderly person, baby or young child and you are seriously concerned – always call an ambulance.

    The decision will vary from case to case, the advice to administer First Aid and call an ambulance if someone;
    • Appears not to be breathing
    • Is having chest pain, difficulty breathing or experiencing weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
    • Experiencing severe bleeding that you are unable to stop with 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 other muscles to help them to breathe.
    • Is unconscious or unaware of what is going on around them
    • Has a fit for the first time, even if they seem to recover from it later
    • If they are having a severe allergic reaction accompanied by difficulty in breathing or collapse – get an ambulance to you, rather than risk things getting worse whilst you are in the car.
    • If a child or elderly person is burnt and the burn is severe enough that you think it will 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 has been hit with force whilst doing combat or contact sport and there is a possibility of a spinal injury.
    If they are conscious they should be kept still, warm and dry whilst waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

    If they are unconscious and breathing; they should be carefully log rolled into the recovery position to keep their airway open. Keep checking that they are breathing.

    If they are unconscious and not breathing; start CPR.

    Take someone straight to A&E if they have:
    • A fever and are floppy and lethargic even after an appropriate dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • A cut that is gaping or losing a lot of blood or 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 (111 can also give you advise from the poisons database – if they are behaving strangely or experiencing any symptoms from the poison; call an ambulance)
    Go to your Family Doctor:

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

    Specific advice for babies 

    If you are looking after a baby who has a serious illness or accident it is important to get medical attention as soon as possible. The following symptoms should always be treated as serious and an ambulance called:
    • A high-pitched, weak or continuous cry.
    • A lack of responsiveness, lethargy or floppiness.
    • A bulging fontanel (the soft spot on a baby’s head).
    • Not drinking for more than eight hours (taking solid food is not as important).
    • A temperature of over 38°C if the baby is less than three months old or over 39°C if the baby is three to six months old or a raised temperature that you are unable to bring down.
    • A high temperature, but cold feet and hands.
    • Fits, convulsions or seizures.
    • Turning blue, very pale, mottled or ashen.
    • Difficulty breathing, fast breathing, grunting while breathing, or if your child is working hard to breathe, for example, sucking their stomach in under their ribs.
    • Your baby or child is unusually drowsy, hard to wake up or doesn’t seem to know you.
    • A spotty, purple-red rash anywhere on the body. (This could be a sign of meningitis.)
    • Repeated vomiting or bile-stained (green) vomiting.
    Most importantly – trust your instincts. If you are seriously worried, administer First Aid and get medical help quickly.

    Called an ambulance? Read What should you do whilst waiting for the ambulance services?

    It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.
    Please visit www.firstaidforlife.org.uk or telephone 0208 675 4036 for more information.

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