What Happens When You Call 111: Emergency Services UK

When you’re in an emergency, the last thing on your mind is what number to call.

But if you’re in the United Kingdom and have no idea what to do, you’ll be happy to know that there are specific numbers for different types of emergencies.

When it comes to personal safety, there are three important numbers you should know: 999 and 111.

You might think that with three different emergency services, things could get a little confusing.

We are taught from a young age about the 999 number, but what happens when you call 111?

But don’t worry, I’ve got all the information you need about each service and how they can help when things go from bad to worse.

Below is a handy table of contents. Clicking on any of the article headers below will jump you straight to the place on this page you are interested in.

What Is 111 For?

111 is a free emergency phone number used in the United Kingdom for medical emergencies that are not immediately life threatening or pose a risk to life.

Remember, if you or someone else are in a life or death situation, 111 should not be used, and you should always dial 999.

For example, you can call 111 for:

  • find out what local service can help you
  • connect to a nurse, emergency dentist, pharmacist or GP
  • get a face-to-face appointment if you need one
  • be given an arrival time if you need to go to A&E – this might mean you spend less time in A&E
  • be told how to get any medicine you need
  • get self-care advice

111 was initially set up as a go between to lessen the burden on the emergency 999 number.

And it was needed – what 999 call staff were reporting was that people were ringing 999 for emergencies that did not require immediate medical attention, which in turn would take away resources from people who did need immediate medical attention, potentially causing delays in ambulance and medical responses.

When You Should Call 111

The following is taken directly from the NHS 111 website: NHS 111 can help if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do.

111 should be used when you have a medical emergency, but you don’t need to call 999 (i.e you or another person do not need immediate medical intervention).

What Happens When You Call 111

So what happens when you call 111?

Your call will be routed to the relevant local call centre, where the trained telephone health advisor will immediately assess the situation based on a series of questions they will ask.

Once they have the required information, they can do a number of things, such as upgrading your call to an emergency 999 call if they feel there is an immediate danger to life.

They can also route your call to doctors and nurses who are trained to deal with telephone enquiries, and then set into motion the relevant course of action.

This could be simple advice that you can carry out at home, to making you an appointment with your local GP, to making you an appointment at your local hospital accident and emergency.

How to Access 111

You can dial 111 from any landline or mobile phone in the UK (24 111 for Scotland).

You can also access the 111 service online, at the NHS 111 website.

My Real Life 111 Example

When my son was around 6 months old, I had him sat on my knee facing me.

I was doing all the things that dads do, making noises, making faces and talking to him.

Without warning he threw himself forward and essentially headbutted me.

In this situation, my wife and I decided to ring 111. We decided on this because he hadn’t lost consciousness, but he had still banged his head hard against mine, so we dialled 111 for advice on what to do next.

We spoke to a Doctor, and eventually an appointment was made for him to be checked over at A&E.

This is a great example of the use of the 111 number.

However, if he had lost consciousness for example, we would have dialled 999 immediately.

What is 999?

I’ve looked at what happens when you call 111, but what happens when you call 999?

What Happens When You Call 111 UK

999 is the United Kingdom’s general emergency number. It’s accessible from all phones, whether you’re using a payphone or your mobile. As soon as you dial, a call is automatically made to a call handling center and an operator will take a brief report of the situation.

The operator will ask for your name and address and try to determine the location of the caller.

If you are in immediate danger, the operator will give you instructions on what to do next, whislt also dispatching the relevant emergency service to your location.

They’re trained to handle a variety of situations, from car accidents to heart attacks.

999: Police, Fire, Ambulance & Coastguard

Police: 999

In the case of an incident that may require an immediate police response, you can call 999.

A police officer will be dispatched to your location and will stay with you until you’re safe.

Fire: 999

If you discover a fire, call 999 and the fire service will be dispatched to your location.

You can also call if you’re in the area of a nearby fire and want to make sure you’re not in danger.

If there’s a fire in your home, enact your home fire safety plan, call 999 and get out.

You can describe the fire and the location of the building, but stay outside until the fire service arrives.

The dispatcher will sometimes give you instructions on what to do next, so make sure you follow their directions.

Remember the official advice: Get out. Stay out. And dial 999.

Ambulance: 999

I’ve looked at what happens when you call 111, so by now you should know what doesn’t happen – if you dial 111, an ambulance won’t come as quickly as dialling 999.

In situations where immediate medical attention is required (such as a heart attack or serious injury), call 999 and request an ambulance.

An operator will ask some questions about your condition or the condition of the person you are calling about and try to determine the best course of action.

when you should call 111 in the UK

If you’re able, try to assess the situation. If there are other people who are also injured, they can report their condition and help the operator determine who needs help first.

If you’re alone, try to assess your symptoms and report what you’re feeling.

Depending on the situation, the operator can give you first aid advice over the phone until the ambulance arrives.

An ambulance dispatch team will respond to your location and transport injured persons to the nearest hospital.

Coastguard: 999

You can also call 999 and ask for the coastguard if you see people in trouble in open waters.

The trained operator will assess the situation, and will notify the coastguard.


I hope you have a better understanding of what happens when you call 111 now, as well as understanding when and when not to use the 111 service.

When in doubt as to what number to call in an emergency, always go with 999.

This will connect you to emergency services in your area. You can always explain your situation in more detail once the operator has you on the line.

Plus, you never know how the situation will progress.

When it comes to life-or-death situations, every second counts. When in doubt, go with the emergency 999 number every time.

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Stay Safe. Stay Secure.


My name is Richard.

I'm 40 years old. And I have nearly 20 years experience in various safety and security industries.

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