In the UK, the average person rings for an ambulance once every seven years. That's pretty infrequent, which is why most people aren't really sure of what needs to be said. It's safe to say that you're ringing because of an emergency situation, hence it's even easier to ascertain that you'll be feeling pretty stressed. So, here are a couple of pointers just to make the whole experience a little less daunting, and to make sure you get yourself an ambulance in the fastest possible time (which is what it's all about, at the end of the day!).
Before You Dial
The first thing to remember - and it can't be stressed enough - is Stay Calm! An ambulance being delayed because someone is unable to give an address as to where they are (due to the fact that they're panicking so much) is a lot more common than you might imagine. It's easier said than done, but if you could just take the time to think that your rational actions might just save someone's life, then perhaps a deep breath before dialling those three digits is in order.
Secondly, take a moment to think about where you are. Not a problem if you're at your home address, as most of us know our addresses reasonably well by now. However, if you're in an unfamiliar location, perhaps driving down a motorway, or in a country lane that you drive through every day on your way to work but haven't the slightest idea what the road is called, it can be extremely difficult locating you. Most ambulance services operate at a single headquarters, dealing with calls from all over their relevant counties. Considering how large an average county is, that's an awful lot of road names and locations for one person to memorise. So please, be aware of your surroundings. It can make all the difference knowing which junction you've just passed on a motorway when aiding the ambulance to find you.
To call for an ambulance, dial 999 or 112. This call is free, regardless of where you are calling from1. Every emergency call is taken in pretty much the same way. When you first dial the number, you will automatically be put through to an operator who will ask which service you require ie, police, fire or ambulance2. These people are extremely important because it's down to them to see that your phone call is directed through to the correct ambulance service. Be patient. They'll pass your call through as quickly as humanly possible. Sometimes it might take a while if the ambulance service in whichever area you are in is experiencing a high volume of calls (which can be a regular occurrence). Once you're through to the relevant service, the operator will pass your telephone number to the call handler. It's important that you give the operator a moment to do this. The number one priority at that point in time is to get your phone number so that a point of contact is made should the line become disconnected. So please, don't shout over the operator while he or she does this.
Now for the actual call. Firstly, you will be asked where you would like the ambulance to come to. This is more important than finding out what is actually wrong, since an ambulance can be sent to an address but not to a diagnosis. Again, please be patient. Each service does have its protocols to see that your call is taken as promptly and as efficiently as possible. It's helped all the more if you listen to the call handler and answer their questions as best you can.
Secondly, you will be asked what the chief complaint is with the patient. Try to keep details to a minimum; a brief description of the problem is all that is required. It's not unknown for the caller to tell the handler every tiny detail of a patient's medical history, down to when they had that in-growing toenail removed 37 years ago. If it has nothing to do with what's wrong with the patient now, then it isn't important. Things to remember are whether the patient is experiencing any acute pain at the time of the call, whether they've had recent hospital treatment, any medical history, eg diabetes, epilepsy etc.
Before You Hang Up
After these important details have been obtained, please don't hang up. There are some more details required from you. You'll be asked several questions - the patient's age and sex, your own name (for the only purpose of establishing another point of contact). The only other really important question you will be asked is whether the patient is conscious and talking. This question is very important to the handler, as all calls have to be prioritised depending on the patient's condition. Someone who has a cut toe but is unconscious and not breathing will take higher priority to someone who has been involved in a serious car accident with multiple injuries but is fully alert and able to speak. So please be clear about the patient's condition when asked.
It sounds a lot but really, the average call lasts about three minutes, and it will all be over a lot quicker if you co-operate and keep your head!
Be aware of your surroundings - where are you?
Explain the chief complaint as briefly as possible.
Be patient, your call will be answered.
And Stay Calm!
Just One More Thing
If you should happen to ring for an ambulance and for one reason or another it's decided that an ambulance is not needed, whatever you do, do not hang up the phone before speaking to an ambulance call handler. So much time is wasted ringing back calls that have hung up, especially when they are busy and there are other calls waiting. Just explain to the call handler that you thought an ambulance was needed, but it's not now. This makes their lives a lot easier3.