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How to call for help if you can’t speak or move

Apr 02, 2020

Being unable to speak or move after an accident can be very scary, particularly if you live alone. If you can’t get up to alert a neighbour or reach a phone, how can you get help?

How to call an ambulance

Ambulance outside house

You can call an ambulance by either dialling 999 or 112. 999 is the number in the UK, whereas dialling 112 from anywhere in Europe will put you through to the local emergency services. This can be useful to know if you’re abroad [1].

Many people assume that you dial the number, provide an address and wait for the blue lights, however, there is more to a 999 phone call than this. In most cases, the operator will require more details about what has happened, who is injured, what their symptoms are (for example, are they breathing, are they conscious, etc.) and, most importantly, where you are [2]. It’s likely that they will have already requested the ambulance, but they need to take as many details as they can to determine how dangerous the situation is. They may even stay on the phone until the ambulance arrives and can talk you through how to perform CPR or stop a bleed.

Whether you’re making the call for yourself or someone else, the most important thing is to remain calm and speak to them slowly and concisely. Panicking and speaking quickly may slow the process down.

However, dialling 999 or 112 aren’t the only ways you can call an ambulance for help. There are other alternatives that can be used if you are in a compromising situation and unable to get to a phone or incapable of speaking.

How to get an ambulance if you can’t speak or move

You may benefit from having a personal alarm. Personal alarms are a way for you to alert the emergency services even when you can’t get up or talk. The device should be worn around your neck or wrist at all times and, when pressed, will dial the 24-hour emergency response centre. The centre will either ring your landline to see if they can speak to you or, if they can’t get through, they will contact one of your chosen emergency contacts. Either way, help will be on its way shortly. It’s a good idea to give your emergency contact a key so that, should the door be locked, they can enter the property quickly. The ability to get help quickly makes personal alarms excellent devices if you can’t move or speak.

If you have any ongoing health problems and worry that there may be a time when you need to call an ambulance without speaking, there are certain precautions that you can put in place before an incident occurs.

First, you could subscribe to the emergencySMS service so that, if an accident happens and you cannot speak, you can text 999 with your address and information about what has happened. You must pre-register for this system by texting 999 with the word ‘REGISTER’. Follow the instructions they provide so that this system is available to you in the future should you need to use it [3].

Alternatively, you could speak to the emergency services using a Relay Assistant. Either use the RelayUK app by tapping the 999 button and type the service you need and your address or call 18000. You’ll be connected to 999 and a Relay Assistant will be able to message you to ask which service you require. Use the textphone screen to communicate with them instead of speaking, and help will be on its way. The app should be downloaded in advance for future use [4].

How to call the police when you can’t speak

You can use the emergencySMS or RelayUK methods above to communicate with the police if you cannot move, however the police have their own system that you can use should you find yourself unable to talk.

The Silent Solution system enables a 999 caller to inform the police that they’re in a genuine emergency but cannot talk. This might be because they’re scared or in a vulnerable situation. For example, if a person was to break into your home, you may want to call the police without alerting the burglars that someone is there.

In this situation, you can dial 999 and stay silent. If you don’t respond, the operator will ask which service you require. If you still don’t answer, they will ask what number you have dialled, to ensure you meant to call the emergency services. If they still have silence on the phone, they’ll ask you to cough, tap the handset or make some sort of noise to let them know that you need help. They will connect the call to another system that asks you to press 55 on your keypad. Doing this will put you through to the police so you can communicate directly with them [5].

If you’re phoning them from a landline, they may be able to track your location. However, if you’re on a mobile device, they aren’t able to pinpoint a specific location. Therefore, you would still need to dictate your address to them. If you’re unable to do this, you could text a friend or family member asking them to call the police on your behalf.

Can the emergency services track your location?

The emergency services are unable to track your location from a mobile device. They may be able to get your location if you’re phoning from a landline, but this isn’t always guaranteed either.


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