Ambulance Response Programme

Understanding our ambulance response categories

When we respond to emergency 999 calls, it’s vital that we get to the most seriously ill patients first, and that these are prioritised over calls that aren’t immediately life-threatening.

In 2017, following the largest ambulance clinical trials in the world, NHS England implemented new ambulance standards across this country, which helps us to do just that.

The Ambulance Response Programme

Known as the Ambulance Response Programme, the guidance aims to ensure that the sickest patients get the fastest response and that all patients get the right response first time.

As part of the programme, a set of pre-triage questions were introduced to help identify patients who need the fastest response, and calls were then divided into four categories.

For calls that aren’t immediately life-threatening, control room staff now have more time to understand the patient’s condition and send the most appropriate response. 

For stroke patients, for example, this may mean taking them to a specialist centre for medical care, rather than sending a single responder who’s able to begin treatment quickly but can’t transport them.

The categories outlined in the Ambulance Response Programme are as follows:

Category Response Response time to 90% of all incidents
Category 1 An immediate response to a life-threatening condition, such as cardiac or respiratory arrest. 15 minutes
Category 2 A serious condition, such as stroke or chest pain, which may require rapid assessment and/or urgent transport. 40 minutes
Category 3 An urgent problem, such as an uncomplicated diabetic issue, which requires treatment and transport to an acute setting. 2 hours
Category 4 A non-urgent problem, such as stable clinical cases, which requires transportation to a hospital ward or clinic. 3 hours

Find out more about what happens when you call an ambulance, and the response times, in our short videos

How we assess your call


Ambulance response programme