Emergency medical services in the United Kingdom

One of London Ambulance Service's frontline vehicles

The London Air Ambulance in action

Emergency medical services in the United Kingdom provide emergency care to people with acute illness or injury and are predominantly provided free at the point of use by the four National Health Services of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Emergency care including ambulance and emergency department treatment is free to everyone, regardless of immigration or visitor status.[1]

The NHS commissions most emergency medical services through the 14 NHS organisations with ambulance responsibility across the UK (11 in England, 1 each in the other three countries).

As with other emergency services, the public normally access emergency medical services through one of the valid emergency telephone numbers (either 999 or 112).[2]

In addition to ambulance services provided by NHS organisations, there are also some private and volunteer emergency medical services arrangements in place in the UK, the use of private or volunteer ambulances at public events or large private sites, and as part of community provision of services such as community first responders.

Air ambulance services in the UK are not part of the NHS and are funded through charitable donations. Paramedics are usually seconded from a local NHS ambulance service, with the exception of Great North Air Ambulance Service who employ their own paramedics. Doctors are provided by their home hospital and spend no more than 40% of their time with an air ambulance service.[citation needed]

Role of the ambulance services

A paramedic's motorcycle in Birmingham

Public ambulance services across the UK are required by law to respond to four types of requests for care,[3] which are:

  • Emergency calls (via the 999 or 112 system)
  • Doctor's urgent admission requests
  • An East of England Ambulance Service Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV)
    High dependency and urgent inter-hospital transfers
  • Major incidents

Ambulance trusts and services may also undertake non-urgent patient transport services on a commercial arrangement with their local hospital trusts or health boards, or in some cases on directly funded government contracts,[4] although these contracts are increasingly fulfilled by private and voluntary providers.