Frequently Asked Questions

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999 Call Handling

999 Emergency Response 


Patient Transport Service


999 Call Handling

When should I call 999?

It can be difficult to assess whether or not an ambulance is required or whether there is a more suitable alternative.

We would urge you to call 999 in a life threatening emergency or if the person you are calling on behalf of:

  • Is unconscious or unresponsive
  • Has symptoms of a stroke (weakness in limbs, muddled speech, paralysis)
  • Is struggling for breath or not breathing
  • Is having an asthma attack and is unresponsive to medication
  • Has severe chest pain
  • Has suffered major blood loss or has uncontrolled bleeding
  • Has had a severe allergic reaction
  • Is fitting (first seizure, last more than 5 minutes, remains unconscious)
  • Has been submerged in water for more than one minute
  • Has suffered a traumatic or penetrating injury or fall

For further information please see the attached poster (When to call 999)

What happens when you dial 999 for an ambulance?

When you call 999, an operator will ask you which emergency service you need. You should say, Ambulance.

Your 999 call will then be passed to one of our trained Call Handlers in one of our three Emergency Operations Centres (Bedford, Chelmsford or Norwich).  You will be asked for details of where you are, for you to confirm the number you are calling from and for details of what has happened. You may be required to repeat this information to ensure we have the correct location for an ambulance response and a call back number should the line drop out.

Your call will be categorised depending on the information and answers given and an appropriate resource will be arranged. This may be in the form of a further telephone assessment by a clinician or an ambulance response.

When I called 999 why was I asked so many questions?

When you call 999, you will be asked a number of questions by the Call Handler. Some of these questions may seem irrelevant at the time, however the answers you provide to these questions will establish the type of help that is required by you. By asking these key questions we can ensure that all callers receive the most appropriate help for their needs as quickly as possible.

Please be assured that the questions being asked and answered are not delaying help being provided; however it is important that the assessment is completed to ensure that the patient receives the most appropriate response. 

Who makes the decision to send an ambulance?

When you call 999 you will speak to a trained Call Handler. The Call Handler will ask a number of questions about your condition. This process is called triage and is used by Ambulance Services both nationally and internationally.

The triage software used by our Call Handlers attempts to quickly identify any immediately life-threatening symptoms which would require an immediate response.

If no immediately life-threatening symptoms are identified, the electronic triage system will code the call appropriately depending on the presenting condition of the patient. The assigned category will decide whether the patient will receive an ambulance response or secondary triage from a clinician.

For further information please see the attached poster (What happens when you call)

My GP said I needed to go to hospital in an ambulance - when should this arrive?

If a GP arranges for an ambulance to take you into hospital, these are booked as ‘GP Urgent’ calls and can be requested for one hour, two hour or four hour responses. These calls are dealt with alongside our emergency 999 calls and the Call Handler will obtain the required information and advise of any ongoing potential delays.

We will always do our absolute best to arrive as quickly as possible, but there may be times when delays are beyond our control. When we know that a delay is likely to occur then we will endeavour to let you know as soon as possible so you can be prepared.

Why did it take so long for the ambulance to arrive?

Information regarding your clinical need is gathered during the 999 call; from there an assessment will be made as to what the most appropriate help is for you. All ambulance resources are prioritised so that patients that require emergency treatment are attended to first.

On occasions it might be necessary to divert an ambulance that is on its way to see you to another patient who has a more serious, life threatening, clinical need. That is not to say that you will not receive an ambulance. Our Emergency Operations Centre staff reassess each situation as it arises and if the ambulance was on its way to you is diverted to another patient they will ensure that the next most appropriate resource is sent to attend you.

Why did they ask to speak with the patient when they were feeling so unwell?

When you call the ambulance service on behalf of a patient you will speak to a Call Handler who may ask to speak directly to the patient. This helps us to gain a better understanding of the patient’s clinical need. This information then informs the type of help that will be provided to the patient. 

Why didn't they send an ambulance? 

The response you are given may be an emergency ambulance or alternatively you may receive clinical advice over the phone. We have clinicians that work within our Emergency Operations Centres that are qualified to provide medical advice over the phone to callers with less serious conditions.

During the call they aim to establish the best course of treatment for you. This could involve being cared for at home, being referred to your GP or local pharmacy, or it might be that you are advised to visit a local NHS walk in centre. They are also able to request an ambulance response if they feel this most appropriate for your presenting condition.  

Please be assured that you will receive the most appropriate care to meet your medical need.

Why wasn't I told there was going to be a delay?

If we have arranged help to attend you, we will make every effort to reach you as soon as possible. However, on occasions where there is a high demand being made on our service, we might not be able to provide help to you as soon as we would like. Our Call Handlers will always aim to advise of delays to our service at the time of the initial call.  When delays do occur, we will do our utmost to keep you informed of  the situation and carry out welfare calls to check for any changes in the patient’s condition. 

Will arriving in an ambulance mean I get treated more quickly in hospital?


The Emergency Department staff will prioritise all patients based on their clinical condition no matter how they arrive at hospital. However, if your condition is life threatening or needing immediate attention the ambulance crew are able to make the hospital aware that they are on route using our pre-alert system.

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999 Emergency Response 

An ambulance crew came to see me, but didn't take me to hospital. Why not?

When you call 999, we aim to provide you with care that meets your clinical need. The aim is to deliver this by the most appropriate clinician and at a location that is most suitable to you and the wider healthcare community.

Conveyance to hospital may often be the most appropriate care pathway for example, if you have complex clinical or mental health needs.  However, we support our staff to make referrals to the most appropriate care provider, such as the patients GP, a Minor Injuries Unit, a Walk-in Centre or Mental Health Facility.

Alternatively, the provider of care may be brought to the patient through the use of specialist nursing teams like Community Matrons, District Nurses, Out of Hours services or other specialist providers.

Why do ambulance staff have to spend time on paperwork?

When an ambulance crew arrives, they are required to undertake some clinical observations. It is a legal requirement for the ambulance staff to document the events leading to the 999 call, your condition upon their arrival and any observations and treatment that is provided.

Please be assured that our ambulance staff will not unnecessarily delay in providing the most appropriate care to you or delay any journey whilst completing their paperwork. 

Who can travel with me in an emergency ambulance?

The privacy and clinical need of our patients is of paramount importance to us. There is limited space available in our vehicles to enable additional passengers to travel safely. It is for this reason that escorts for patients are kept to a minimum, usually only one person, who is ordinarily a relative, carer or friend. However, this will depend on the circumstances of the event. The safety of the patient and ambulance crew will be considered prior to agreeing to any additional escort. 

What can I take with me in the ambulance?

The ambulance environment is designed to take you safely to hospital. The ambulance crew are unable to carry anything that would create an unsafe working environment and this is particularly important if they may be required to drive at speed.

We understand that it might be upsetting to travel without a piece of equipment that you rely on. However, if you require a mobility aid these can be provided at the hospital. 

Please be aware that any property you take with you on an ambulance, you do so at your own risk. The ambulance crew cannot be held responsible for your own personal property. 

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An ambulance has blocked my car in - what can I do? 

Our staff will always try to avoid obstructing other road users. If you discover that your vehicle has been blocked in, this could be because the condition of the patient being attended requires immediate intervention; as soon as the patient's condition allows, the ambulance crew will try to move the vehicle to a more suitable location.

On these occasions we understand how frustrating this may be, but we ask you to please be patient and the vehicle will be on its way as soon as possible.

I've seen an ambulance parked on double yellow lines - is this allowed?

Ambulances have an exemption that allows them to park on white or yellow lines providing they are engaged on official duties. This may be required so that they can get as close as possible to the patient they are treating and avoid any life-threatening delays.

Our ambulance crews are trained to ensure that they park vehicles in such a way that will not cause a nuisance to other road users but also ensure that there is no delay in attending the patient.

The tail lifts and stretchers used on our ambulances require an additional 3.5 metres of clearance to operate safely, this can drastically limit the availability of parking spaces available to our crews.

What should I do when I am driving and see an ambulance approaching me with lights and sirens on?

Our ambulance crews are trained to drive the vehicles under emergency conditions. They do drive with all due care and attention; however they do need your help to move through the traffic as quickly and safely as possible.

Here are some tips that will help you stay calm and safe and help our emergency vehicles get to their destination without delay.

  • Look and listen
    Check your mirrors regularly and make sure your music is not too loud.
  • Consider the route and size of the vehicle
    You may need to move over even if the emergency vehicle is traveling in the opposite direction.
  • Signal your intentions using your indicators
    This will help the emergency vehicle and other road users know what action you are taking.
  • Pull in or move over safely
    You may not need to stop completely.
  • Don't stop opposite any obstructions
    This will make the road narrower.
  • Avoid mounting kerbs/pavements where possible
    Be aware of pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists.
  • Signal when you are pulling away
    Motorists behind you may still be moving, be careful when re-joining the road.
  • Stay alert
    More emergency vehicles may be on the way. 
  • Make sure your actions are safe and legal
    Stay within the speed limit and don’t drive through red lights

When are ambulances allowed to use their sirens?

Ambulance staff can activate the vehicle sirens at any time of the day or night. However, they should only use the sirens when it is appropriate and necessary to make other road users, including those on foot, aware of the presence of an ambulance. 

Why are the engines running in your vehicles when they are stood still?

Frontline ambulances carry essential items of clinical and diagnostic equipment that can provide life-saving treatment to patients, transmit 'real time' information to the hospitals and provide advanced tracking and mobile data technologies to ensure ambulances can be on scene within minutes of a 999 call.

All this equipment requires significant power from the batteries on board. Failure to keep these batteries fully charged can result in equipment not working correctly or at worst shutting down which may pose a significant threat to lives. In order to keep the battery charged the vehicle must be left running during some periods of rest.

Ambulance engines may also be left running to ensure the patient compartment, medications and equipment remain at a regulated temperature. In many cases patients are on board requiring urgent medical attention.

When vehicles are on station, vehicles do not need to run their engines as they are plugged into charging units that ensure the vehicle maintains a state of readiness.

Why do you have different vehicles - why aren't they all ambulances?

The ambulance service responds to a wide variety of medical emergencies and this means it is necessary for the types of vehicles to be varied.  We have vehicles that can travel ‘off-road’, helicopters, small Rapid Response cars and we even have staff who travel on bicycles. This means a member of clinically trained ambulance staff can respond to emergencies and provide potentially life-saving treatment as quickly as possible. This also means that patients who can be treated at home can be so, allowing the vehicles designed to transport patients to hospital can concentrate on patients whose condition is more critical. 

Why is there always an ambulance vehicle parked in the same spot?

The ambulance service uses sophisticated planning software to determine the most likely locations of emergency calls. If this is in an area not covered by an ambulance station, vehicles may be moved closer and placed on standby so they may be available to respond to an emergency should one occur.  

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Patient Transport Service

Why was my Patient Transport late?

We do our upmost to ensure all patients arrive by their appointment time. On occasions we can be delayed due to road conditions, high demand on the service or limited number of resources available. If we are running late, we will aim to let you and the hospital or clinic know that you may be late for your appointment.

Should I take anything with me to my appointment?

You may need to wait for return your transport after your appointment, please take some money, refreshments and any medication needed.

Can I have someone travel with me on Patient Transport?

We can only allow carers to travel with the patients in specific circumstances depending on the patient’s condition. This additional person would need to be added to the journey on the initial booking.

Should you have any queries about whether you can have someone accompany you, please contact the Patient Transport Booking Office. 

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I've lost something which I may have left on the ambulance, how can I find it?

We receive several enquiries regarding lost personal items that are subsequently found. In the first instance, please could you check all your pockets and bags for your missing items.

If you travelled by ambulance, any items you have with you will be handed over to the staff at the receiving unit. We would recommend checking with the hospital department you attended to confirm whether they have your items.

If you have a lost property enquiry for EEAST, please contact the Patient Experience Team on 01234 243320, or using our Web Form.

How can I thank ambulance staff?

If you were pleased with the service that you received from the East of England Ambulance Service, you can submit a compliment by contacting the Patient Experience Team.

The Patient Experience Team can be contacted on 01234 243320, or using our Web Form.

Can my guide dog travel with me on an ambulance?

In any emergency situation the patient will always come first. If you have a guide or assistance dog a decision on whether they can travel with you will be made on a case by case scenario. Please be assured that ambulance staff will do all they can to ensure the safety of your assistance dog while they provide you with treatment.

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