Emergency Department

What to do in an emergency

What to expect when you arrive at an emergency department

Emergency departments work on a triage system. This means that when you arrive, a medical assessment is carried out to see how urgently you need medical care. We will see and treat everyone who presents to the emergency department, starting with the sickest people first.

The first triage system was developed at Ipswich Hospital and the concept is now used worldwide. It exists to ensure the sickest people are treated first. While all patients at emergency departments may be experiencing serious illness or injury, those with life-threatening and severe conditions must be treated first.

What happens when I arrive at the Emergency Department?

When you arrive at the emergency department the seriousness of your illness or injury will be determined by a triage nurse using a rating system:

Rating 1: immediately life-threatening patients: critical injury or cardiac arrest.

Rating 2: imminently life-threatening patients: critical illness, very severe pain, serious chest pains, difficulty in breathing or severe fractures.

Rating 3: potentially life-threatening patients: severe illness, bleeding heavily from cuts, major fractures, dehydrated.

Rating 4: potentially serious patients: less severe symptoms or injuries, such as foreign body in the eye, sprained ankle, migraine or ear ache.

Rating 5: less urgent patients: minor illnesses or symptoms, rashes, minor aches and pains.

Patients in the first three categories will always take priority over ratings 4 and 5. 


If you think your injuries or illness would be rated 4 or 5, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or visit a general practitioner (GP), after hours medical centre or pharmacy for minor illnesses to avoid delays and help keep the number of patients down in emergency departments.

By not using emergency department resources for non-emergency situations, you will allow emergency staff to focus on people who are seriously unwell, and you may find that you will be treated more efficiently elsewhere.

In an emergency call 000.