Covid NHS pressures: What should I do if I think I'm having a heart attack?

Ambulances queue Credit: PA

Despite the huge pressures currently facing the NHS, people should not hesitate to call 999 if someone's life is in danger.

This week figures obtained by ITV News Central showed ambulances had been queuing outside emergency departments for up to 15 hours in the last few months, and West Midlands Ambulance Service is calling on retired paramedics to consider returning to work.

However, their message is still clear - that in life threatening emergencies, people should call an ambulance.

Mark Doherty, their executive director, said that in other non-emergency scenarios, people must be aware of the more appropriate options.

He said: "We're urging people not to put unnecessary burdens on emergency care."

Mark Doherty from West Midlands Ambulance Service says that people using the wrong service for their condition is causing hold-ups in emergency care

He adds: "We still see people calling us when self-care would be a better option. Some people we would urge to take more responsibility for their own health.

"If they become unwell, an ambulance isn't always the right thing for them.

"There are other services available. If they can keep the emergency services for emergency care that will help not only them, but people who need access to emergency care."

When should I ring 999?

This is for when someone is seriously ill or injured, and their life is at risk.

Medical emergencies include:

  • chest pain

  • difficulty in breathing

  • unconsciousness

  • severe loss of blood

  • severe burns or scalds

  • choking

  • fitting or concussion

  • drowning

  • severe allergic reactions.

When should I ring 111?

111 is a non-emergency service for urgent care. The call handlers will direct you to the most appropriate care.

This could include self-care, a GP, a local pharmacy, walk-in centre, the emergency department or they will arrange an emergency ambulance if required. You should call NHS 111 if:

  • You need medical help fast but it’s not a life-threatening emergency

  • You don’t know who to call for medical help or you don’t have a GP to call

  • You think you need to go to A&E or another NHS urgent care service but are not sure which one is most appropriate or closest

  • You require health advice or reassurance about what to do next

  • You have medication enquiries

When should I see a GP or a pharmacist?

That is for health needs which are less urgent again.

You can find a local GP here or local pharmacist here.

Will I be told to drive myself to A&E?

West Midlands Ambulance Service is not telling people to drive themselves to A&E when an emergency response is required.

They say if somebody rang 999 with a cut finger and had someone sitting next them to who could drive, it would be more appropriate to take themselves to hospital, but if an emergency response is needed, they will not be told to take themselves.