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Emergency numbers everyone should know

We all hope to go through life without needing to call the emergency services. But when the time comes, knowing what you’re doing could save a life.

In the UK, it’s well-known that the emergency services number is 999. But there is a common misconception that 999 covers all situations. In fact, these days we have various numbers to choose from and there are times when one of these numbers could be much more useful to you.

This article will run through the emergency numbers everyone should know, when and where to dial them, and what to do if you’re in a situation where you can’t talk to the operator at the other end. We’ll also look at why mobile phone insurance is vital to make sure the life-saver in your pocket doesn’t let you down when you need it most.

Emergency Call

When to call 999

Dialling 999 will allow you to reach the emergency services of the police, ambulance, fire brigade or the coastguard. It’s available 24/7, 365 days a year to help protect us from danger.

When you dial the number, you will be put through to an operator who will ask what service you need. Tell them the relevant service, and they will connect you. But remember that this number is reserved for emergencies only, so it’s a good idea to understand what that might mean in the context of each service.

The NHS says only to call 999 in a medical emergency, which it defines as when someone’s illness or injury is immediately life threatening.

This can include breathing difficulties, chest pains, severe bleeding that can’t be stopped, loss of consciousness or severe burns and allergic reactions. It’s recommended to call 999 immediately if you or someone with you is having a heart attack or stroke. Also, call 999 if you have witnessed a stabbing or shooting, a road traffic accident, a fall from height or a serious head injury.

Calling 999 isn’t a guarantee that an ambulance will be dispatched. The call handler will decide the appropriate next steps, which could also be a rapid response car, or you could be given advice over the phone by a medically trained adviser.

The Police say to only dial 999 if a crime is still in progress or when someone suspected of a crime is nearby. Also, dial 999 when there is immediate danger to life or when violence is being used or threatened.

Thousands of hours of police time are wasted each year on matters that should have been directed somewhere else. The most common incidents include abandoned vehicles, fly tipping and noise complaints, which are all matters for your local council.

For the Fire Brigade, the advice is to call 999 no matter how small the fire – small fires can spread rapidly and emit toxic smoke. It’s also recommended not to assume someone else has called 999. If the fire is in your house or flat, get outside immediately, make the call, and don’t go back inside for any reason.

Meanwhile, if you’re walking on the coast or out on your boat, the Coastguard recommends taking your mobile phone in a waterproof pouch in case you find yourself unexpectedly in the water. If you’re in danger or you see someone else in trouble, call 999 immediately and ask for the Coastguard. Don’t be put off by your phone showing no service – as it’s an emergency, your phone will be able to connect to another network when you need emergency help.

When the 999 operator connects you to the relevant service, you will need to provide more information. At this point, it’s vital to stay calm and answer the questions as clearly as possible. They will include asking your location – possibly the postcode, the street name and area, and any landmarks to help the services reach you as quickly as possible. Then you must specify what exactly is happening to help determine the right response.

When to call 112

If you’re in the European Union (EU) on holiday or for work, the emergency number is 112. This number will also work in the UK, putting you through to the same operators as if you dialled 999. These two numbers will also both work in the Republic of Ireland and Croatia.

You can dial 112 anywhere in the EU 24/7 to reach police, ambulance and fire brigade.

If you’re heading further afield than the EU, make sure you know what the number for emergency services is in that country before you get there. For example:

  • Hong Kong - 999
  • India - 112
  • USA - 911
  • Canada - 911
  • Australia - 000
  • New Zealand - 111

If you travel to China or Japan, the emergency services have separate numbers – 110 for police, 120 for ambulance, and 119 for fire brigade.

Remember to check if your mobile phone insurance covers you for international travel before you set off.

What about non-emergencies?

Sometimes when faced with a tough situation, we may panic and call 999. Other times, although it might not be a life-threatening emergency, we’re not sure what else to do.

In fact, more numbers have been created to help with this. Not only might these numbers help deal with your problem more quickly, they mean the emergency services can manage their resources more efficiently.


The non-emergency number for the Police is 101. Use this when you want to contact them, but you don’t need them to rush to the scene. That might be, for example, if you come home to find your house has been broken into, or your car has been stolen. You can use the number for free after the 15p charge was abolished in 2020.

This number was created to give members of the public a way to contact police without wasting their emergency resources. It can be useful if you want to pass on information about potential crimes in your area, for example if you suspect someone might be dealing drugs.


For non-urgent medical calls, dial 111. The NHS 111 service will connect you with a fully trained adviser who will ask you about your symptoms and decide what the next steps should be. This will include whether there's a local service that can help, if you should be connected to another professional such as a nurse or GP, or if you should go to A&E. You may also be told about medicine and self-care advice if your condition can be treated at home.


COVID 19-related situations

Various medical professionals across the UK have stressed that 999 is strictly for emergencies and that is no different for anything relating to COVID-19. For example, calling 999 would be appropriate if your condition has worsened and you’re struggling to breath.

In other situations, for example if you are displaying coronavirus symptoms and you’re worried about it or unsure what to do, it is advised to call 111 instead. You may have also seen the number 119 in relation to COVID-19 – this is the number to call if you need to book a test.

Unfortunately, there have been reports of rising scams from criminals pretending to be from official sources like the Government or the NHS, encouraging you to book a vaccine appointment. If you receive any texts or calls related to coronavirus, be vigilant. The Local Government Association advises that a real NHS vaccination booking will never ask for payment or your bank details – the COVID-19 vaccine will always be free in the UK.

What if I’m unable to speak?

There might be several situations where you need to call the emergency services but you’re unable to speak.

If you’re deaf, hearing impaired or you have a speech impediment, you can contact 999 with an SMS text message on your mobile phone. However, this is only possible if you have registered for the service in advance. It’s worth doing this now instead of being caught short at your time of need. Thankfully, registering is a simple process – just send an SMS that says ‘register’ to 999. They will reply with some more information about the service for you to read. When you’ve done that, reply with ‘yes’. Soon after you’ll get a reply to say you’re registered.

This service is also available in situations where it’s too dangerous to speak and you’re trying to call 999 in secret, for example in cases of domestic abuse.

The Police have a system to stop domestic abuse victims from ending up in a helpless situation like this, called the Silent Solution. It helps operators to filter out accidental or hoax 999 calls and has a series of features to help you get assistance without saying much or anything at all. After a short-automated message when you dial 999, you will be told to press 55 to get through to police call management. If you press nothing, the call will terminate.

Pressing 55 will put you through to your local police force. The operator will try to get key information from you via simple yes or no questions so you have to speak as little as possible.

This may take slightly longer than a normal 999 call but could make all the difference in you’re in a life-threatening situation.

Why you shouldn’t misuse emergency numbers

The emergency services don’t have unlimited resources. Therefore, if you use them unnecessarily, it’s at the expense of someone else who may have a genuine emergency, slowing down the response which could cost lives.

Although it may sound unbelievable, the Police regularly receive calls that are either hoaxes or for matters that are clearly not worth dialling 999. To highlight this, West Yorkshire Police released a series of real recorded 999 calls from people who needed a taxi home, or who had received the wrong clothes order, and various others.

The calls can take minutes to deal with, which could be the difference of life or death for another caller in genuine danger.

Meanwhile, hoax 999 calls are surprisingly common. These calls are a criminal offence and can lead to a £5,000 fine or imprisonment. Children may not understand the seriousness of a hoax 999 call, so the Police advise parents to make them aware of this as soon as possible.

Although illegitimate calls can get you in trouble, don’t let this totally put you off making a call to 999 if you think you need to. London Fire Brigade says even if you’re unsure if what you’re witnessing is an emergency, it’s better to be safe than sorry and call 999.

Don’t be caught short by your technology

Put simply, your mobile phone could save your life. Even though most of us carry one wherever we go these days, you still need to take steps to make sure that when the time comes, it doesn’t let you down.

If your battery is running low when you call emergency services, you may think about turning your phone off. However, this is a bad idea. Keep it on so you can be called back if needed, and the emergency responders can possibly track your location.

Meanwhile, you won’t be able to text 999 without a working phone. Having mobile phone insurance that can quickly replace a damaged or stolen device reduces your chances of being caught without one at a critical moment.

Mobile phone insurance from Gadget Cover

Unfortunately, when an emergency occurs, it’s likely to be completely out of your control. However, you can take steps to ensure you’re always able to seek the help you need.

Gadget Cover’s insurance specialists will do their best to to find the best mobile phone insurance policy at the right price.​

Policies can include protection from breakdown, accidental damage, theft, and unauthorised use. For an extra premium, loss can be covered.

If you’re taking your phone abroad, cover is also automatically extended to include using your phone anywhere in the world, up to 180 days in any one year.

We can also extend cover to your immediate family in case they lose or damage your phone.

Get a quote for mobile phone insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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