A&E. Two simple letters guaranteed to set any parent’s pulse racing, but if your child’s ill and needs to be seen immediately this is the place to be.


Whether your hospital has a separate children’s A&E department or not, there will be a specially-trained children’s nurse and Emergency doctor to help.

They understand that as a parent you will be very anxious but it’s also good to know what to expect to put you and your child at ease…

When should you take your child to A&E?

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to take your child to A&E, especially if they’re too young to tell you how they’re feeling, but there are certain symptoms to look out for. These can be:

  • An extremely high temperature
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Suspected meningitis
  • Choking
  • A severe allergic reaction
  • A nasty accident or fall
  • Loss of consciousness

If your child has had or is experiencing any of these it’s best to be seen immediately.

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A trip to A&E isn’t always necessary though. If you’re concerned about your child’s health but just want advice, medicine or a professional opinion one of the alternatives might be more suitable:

Your local GP: Think your child needs to be seen quickly but probably doesn’t warrant an A&E trip? Then, book an emergency appointment with your doctor for that same day.

Out-of-hours doctor: Unfortunately, illness can strike at any time. Phone your local GP for the out-of-hours doctor. The phone number should be on their voicemail.

Walk-in centres: Open 365 days a year, these do exactly what they say on the tin. There’s no need to book an appointment but you might want to find out if you have one nearby as they’re not available everywhere. Check www.nhs.uk/servicedirectories/pages/servicesearch.aspx

Ring NHS111 (from 2013): Set to replace NHS Direct, Call Advisers on 111 can offer health information and point you in the right direction for suitable help. You can still call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 until the new service is rolled out nationally.

Should you ring 999?

If you haven’t got a car and your child needs urgent attention, or needs help immediately and on the way to the hospital then the answer is a resounding yes.

When you ring 999 and request an ambulance one will be sent the moment you call, so don’t worry they might not get there quick enough. Try to stay on the phone to give as much information as you possibly can, and remain calm. Help will be offered on the phone, and any information you give will be passed on to the Paramedics so they can act quickly on arrival.

Do you call an ambulance or drive yourself?

To call or not to call depends on the situation…

If your child has stopped breathing you should call an ambulance. The Paramedics can act immediately on arrival and monitor your child on the drive to the hospital.

A nasty fall? Broken bones? It’s best to call the professionals who know how to handle your child without possibly making the situation worse…

But, if your child has a very high temperature it’s likely you can drive yourself and the nurse can assess your child’s condition when you arrive.

What happens when you get to A&E?

On arrival at the hospital, make your way to the general A&E reception. You might then be sent to a special Children’s A&E department. If there isn’t one there should be dedicated children’s nurses and your child will be seen by an A&E doctor.

A nurse will assess your child first so try to be as concise as possible about what’s happened and the nurse can get a full picture quickly. They will decide if your child should be seen straightaway. Otherwise you will be asked to wait until a doctor is free.

How long will you wait?

Any time seems like forever when your child is ill, but as with any A&E department the waiting time depends on the degree of your child’s illness. You may be seen instantly or be asked to wait in order of your arrival. General A&E departments try to see, diagnose and treat 95% of people within four hours of arrival.

Some children’s A&E departments have toys and kid’s films to keep the children entertained. If not, it may be best to take something to entertain your child; a colouring book, puzzle or stacking blocks. And, don’t forget to take any milk, bottles or nappies, although hospitals should provide these if you leave home in a hurry. Finally, you might need to stay overnight so a change of clothes for you and your child could come in very handy!

What happens next?

Once your child has been seen they may need to stay overnight. Try not to worry as this may just be for monitoring and can actually put your mind at ease. If your child is very young or you want to stay with them there may be ‘parent and child rooms’ available.


Or, you could be discharged as soon as you’ve seen the doctor. A prescription and a follow-up appointment either at the hospital or with your GP may be offered to check everything is okay.