A first aid kit bag

Contacting 999 & First Aid

Practical advice on contacting emergency services and carrying out First Aid if you stammer, from First Aid Instructor Rob Lazaro.

Contacting 999 to ask for emergency services can be an issue if you have difficulties speaking. So too can communicating instructions when carrying out First Aid on an injured person.

Contacting emergency services by text

In a situation where someone is seriously injured, the first thing to do is to phone for an ambulance. For people who have speech difficulties, calling emergency services can be intimidating or not possible at all. 

But rather than making a phone call you can alert police, ambulance, fire, or coastguard services by texting them through their 'Emergency SMS' (short message service) system. 

Note that the Emergency SMS system will take longer than the standard voice 999 to get assistance, so it is suggested you use this to contact the emergency services only if you have no other option.

How to register for the Emergency SMS

To use the Emergency SMS system you need to register your phone first. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Text the word 'Register' to 999.
  2. You will receive a text message with terms and conditions.
  3. Reply to the message with the word 'Yes'.
  4. You should then get a confirmation text message.

Here's an example of what it will look like on your phone:

A screengrab of messages on a mobile phone

If you do not receive any messages, check with your mobile provider to see if they support the Emergency SMS service.

In an emergency situation

  1. Compose a text message and include the following:
  • The service you need: eg, 'ambulance', 'police', 'fire' or 'coastguard'.
  • What the emergency is. Be brief and precise. For example: 'Woman having stroke'.
  • The location: include the name of the road and town, and, if possible, more details such as the house number, nearby landmarks or main roads.

Here are a few examples: 'Ambulance. Woman having Stroke. Outside Smith’s Estate Agents. Whitmore Way, Basildon SS14'.

Or 'Police and Ambulance. Car accident. 2 casualties injured and responsive. A12 Brentwood'.

2.  Send the message to 999 and the emergency services will reply either telling you that help is on the way or asking for more information.

Do not assume that your message has been delivered until you get the reply. This may take a couple of minutes. If at any point you are in doubt the message has been received, try and ask someone to call 999 if you have to. 

Apps for communicating with others in an emergency

If you are in an emergency situation whilst out in public, you might find it hard to communicate with people around you. There are apps that can help with that. The apps are called 'Emergency Chat' and you can download them for free on smartphones or tablets from the Apple store and Google Play

Here's how they work: 

  • Download the app now. That way you can use it straight away in an emergency. 
  • Once it's downloaded, open the app. It will immediately prompt you to compose a message using a template provided. For instance, you could type 'I am giving you my phone because I find it hard to speak, but I am still capable of text communication. Press continue so we can carry on'. 
  • Press save and close the app.
  • If you are in an emergency situation, open the app and the message you have saved will automatically appear. Hand the phone to somebody around you to read. 
  • When they read the message and press continue, you can both type in text messages, passing the phone between you. Here's an example of how it would look: 
A mobile phone displaying a text chat

Applying first aid

Many people, even if they don't stammer, can be put off from carrying out First Aid. They might be afraid of getting it wrong or making an injury worse. 

In reality, First Aid is about giving it a go. In serious situations, the job of a First Aider is to keep someone ticking over until the emergency services arrive, or until you take them to A&E or even their GP. 

Once you've called an ambulance, or if the situation is not an emergency, you can then give First Aid to the patient using any skills learnt on a First Aid course.

As a First Aider, you will need to get consent from a casualty to treat them. If somebody is responsive, then they need to express consent. We call that 'Expressed Consent'. 

However, consent does not need to be verbal. Some casualties will not be able to respond verbally due to language barrier or an injury, etc. 

Use body language so that a casualty can follow your instructions. Simple signals using hands can help, such as miming a 'phone sign' or placing your hand on your chest to show you can help. Offer a hand to help them off of the floor, or place your own hand on top of a wound to help you bandage it.

All the patient needs to do is allow you to treat them. If a casualty is unresponsive then you have 'Implied Consent'. This means if a casualty could answer you, they would want you to help them, as simple as that.

First Aid is all about giving it a go. Just the initial assistance could go a long way for someone who has injured themselves. As soon as other people arrive they may take over. A First Aider does not need to deal with the entire event. 
As easy as it sounds, only 1 in 20 (5%) people in the UK would feel knowledgeable, confident and willing to administer First Aid on someone*. 

In a situation where emergency services are delayed, the more people we have to help people the better, so please don’t let speech difficulties put you off and consider getting some First Aid training. You could save a life.

If you have any questions about anything included here, email 

Rob Lazaro is a First Aid Instructor at Train2Help.

*1 British Red Cross Jan 2018.

Group shot of Stamma members, with text saying 'Become a member for free'

Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

Become a member

It's free

Join the movement to change how people understand and react to stammering.

Sign up

Campaign. Fundraise. Connect. Meet. Vote. Talk.