What to do if you fall ill in the UK: where to go, who to call and what to expect

19.06.2024Александр Татиев

In this guide, we've outlined how emergency (and beyond) medical care is organized in the UK and London in particular, as well as compiled the important phone numbers, links and instructions you need to take care of yourself and your loved ones quickly and efficiently.

Emergency assistance

To begin with, it is worth clarifying exactly what is considered a ‘life-threatening situation’ in the UK, and what conditions will be grounds for a person to receive emergency medical treatment. These symptoms in the United Kingdom include severe chest pain, difficulty breathing, serious bleeding, loss of consciousness, severe trauma with extensive injuries and a number of other aspects, a full list of which can be viewed at link.

If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed above, you should urgently call 999 for an ambulance – it doesn’t matter whether you are dialing from a smartphone or landline (circumstances vary) – no additional characters such as #lattice, * asterisks should be entered.

Be prepared that before an ambulance is sent to you, you will have to answer a few questions from the operator – give details about your condition and whereabouts – this procedure was not invented for fun, but to ensure that the right team and equipment are sent to the victim. Upon arrival, medical staff will provide on-site emergency care and transport you to the A&E emergency room if necessary.

You realize that a long wait is dangerous and you can’t rely on a medical team arriving on time – then go to the nearest A&E department yourself. Keep in mind that not all hospitals in Britain have this option. To avoid wasting precious minutes, check the address of your nearest A&E on the NHS website or call 111 – dialing either from a smartphone or landline does not involve extra characters (#lattice or *stars or other nuances).

Some of the larger hospitals in London with emergency departments include the following:

  • St Thomas Hospital (Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7EH)
  • University College Hospital (235 Euston Road, London NW1 2BU)
  • The Royal London Hospital (Whitechapel Rd, London E1 1FR)

As in any country you will be asked for a certain set of documents – for emergencies this is minimal – your NHS number (if known), identification (ID) and information that may be important to doctors in deciding how to treat you – for example, a list of medications you are taking on an ongoing basis.

A&E health care providers will assess your condition and determine how urgently you need care. Depending on the severity, they will either provide help immediately or ask you to wait. After initial medical manipulation, you may be hospitalized, referred to a specialist for further treatment, or sent home.

A non-life-threatening situation

There are situations that are not immediately life-threatening but require equally close attention or surgical intervention. These in Britain include sprains, fractures, skin infections or bruises of varying severity – a full list can be viewed at link.

In such cases you can get medical advice by calling 111. As with 999, dialing from any phone does not involve entering any additional characters. During the call, a trained operator will ask you about all the details of your condition, find the local health service you need to contact and help you make an appointment to see a doctor.

Alternatively, you can visit the NHS 111 website – this is the equivalent of talking to an operator. You will have to answer a series of questions, after which you will receive recommendations for self-treatment or a referral to a doctor.

If you feel more comfortable getting a face-to-face consultation, visit Urgent Treatment Center or A&E Urgent Care – they can help with minor injuries and illnesses.

Here are some of the major services based in London:

  • Soho Walk-In Centre, 1 Frith Street, London W1D 3HZ
  • The Junction Health Centre, at Arches 5-8, Clapham Junction Station, 5-8 Grant Road, London SW11 2NU
  • St Charles Centre for Health & Wellbeing, at Exmoor Street, London, W10 6DZ

The set of documents you will be asked for is also minimal – your NHS number (if known), identification (ID) and information that may be important for doctors to give you the right advice – such as a list of medications you take on a regular basis, and preferably (and if possible) official prescriptions.

Another option is to see a general practitioner (GP). If you haven’t had a similar experience, first register and select your GP on the NHS website. However, there are cases (and they are not few) when it is impossible to make an appointment online, and to get an appointment you have to come to the clinic and talk to the receptionist in person.

General practitioners provide consultations, diagnoses, referrals to specialized specialists and are virtually no different from “Russian general practitioners”. You will need to bring proof of address and ID to your appointment (they are only needed for registration).

You can also ask the pharmacist at the pharmacy – some are authorized to give advice and can help treat minor ailments, and will write repeat prescriptions and even give you a physical exam. To find your nearest licensed pharmacy, use the NHS website.

Mental health issues

Of course, it is not only a severe physical condition that can be life threatening, but also certain psychological conditions. If you realize you are experiencing a crisis, there are several ways to get the support you need: call the NHS Mental Health Crisis Line (for example, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust on 0800 0234 650), visit A&E – they will listen and advise you – or contact the charity Samaritans, which provides emotional support to anyone experiencing mental distress, coping difficulties or at risk of suicide – phone 116 123 – the service is free and available 24 hours a day.

Private medicine

In the UK, the time from the moment of contact to the arrival of an ambulance in an emergency should be around 7 minutes. But in life everything is more complicated: medics can be very late due to congestion, it can be difficult to call the right numbers, and some officials themselves recommend in some cases not to wait and use the services of a private clinic. In any situation, it’s important to remember – if you’re not sure you can help yourself or the injured person in a safe way, it’s best to seek professional help and don’t take any action until doctors arrive.

Private clinics such as VisitHealth (West Kensington, London) have an Urgent Care Unit. Emergency response teams accompany the patient from the moment the operator is connected until medical personnel arrive. And VisitHealth’s A&E (Accident & Emergency) doctors and nurses are trained for any emergency or urgent condition. The department is equipped with a mini-operating room, ECG, ultrasound, X-ray, portable laboratory devices, has access to MRI, endoscopy unit, day hospital rooms and has facilities that allow for rapid resuscitation of patients before the arrival of specialized teams.

Importantly, care can be provided for both adults and children, and no appointment is required to apply: patients can simply come to VisitHealth or call the team at home.

Traveling crews are another convenient option, especially when it comes to children or the elderly. Medicine has come a long way and the staff is now equipped with, among other things, mobile equipment (X-ray, ultrasound and more) and provides care at any location.

Urgent Care Unit at VisitHealth Private Clinic in London is managed by a renowned British doctor, surgeon, MD, Professor Ali Ghoz, who selects only experienced medical professionals for his team. They are all united by a common mission – quality medicine and the belief that the development of disease is more often and easier to prevent than to treat.

We hope you won’t need most of this guide, but as the saying goes, it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have. Remember that in any medical emergency, time is of the essence, so always use caution and seek help immediately.

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