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The emergency department (ED)

Emergency departments (EDs) are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Some EDs in Dublin only see adults and some only see children. Outside of Dublin, children can go to any ED.

Emergency action required: Call 112 or 999 for an ambulance if:

someone is seriously ill or injured, and their life is at risk.

When to go to the ED

EDs deal with life-threatening emergencies.

For example, if someone:

  • is breathless
  • is feeling unwell and getting sicker very quickly
  • has not peed in over 12 hours and does not need to pee
  • is not feeling well and has become confused and agitated
  • is very pale with cold hands and feet
  • is dizzy when they sit up or unable to stand
  • has developed a rash that does not disappear when pressed down

Less severe injuries can be treated in an injury unit.

What to bring

If possible, bring:

  • your GP's name and address
  • a referral letter if your GP has given you one
  • any medicine you are taking
  • a list of any allergies or medical conditions you might have
  • your glasses or hearing aid if you use them

This will help the healthcare team and may shorten your waiting time.


If you have difficulties with language or speaking, please bring someone with you who can help you communicate.

We can arrange an interpreter, but there may be a wait.

When you arrive at the ED

When you arrive at the ED, register at reception. The people most in need of help will be seen first.

When you will be seen depends on:

  • how serious your injury or illness is
  • how busy it is

If you need special help because of a physical or mental disability, let us know.

Assessment (triage)

We use something called 'triage' to find out who needs to be seen most urgently.

When you arrive, you will be seen by a triage nurse. The triage nurse is trained to find out what is wrong with you.

They will prioritise you based on your condition. But if anything changes or if you begin to feel worse, let them know right away.

Why you may need to wait

EDs are staffed with more doctors and nurses when we know there will be more patients. But if we have a lot of people needing care, we need to ask people to wait.

Bring a family member or friend

You may take 1 family member or friend into the examination room with you. You cannot bring more than 1 person because of limited space. It is also to protect the privacy and comfort of all patients.

Keep the ED safe

If anything makes you feel uncomfortable in the ED, let a member of staff know.

Treatment, transfer and discharge

Most people attending an ED can go home after having tests or treatment. Some people need to stay for more tests or specialist care.

Sometimes when a patient needs to be admitted to the hospital for specialist care, there is no bed available on a hospital ward at that time.

When this happens, the patient may have to wait in the ED until a bed becomes available.

If this happens, we will continue to care for you in the ED until your bed is ready.

If you have to stay in the hospital

You may be admitted to:

  • a medical or surgical ward
  • a specialty unit, such as intensive care or coronary care
  • an isolation room, if you have an infection or contagious bug

Even if you are waiting for a bed you'll still get treatment and tests.

We'll make every effort to make you as comfortable as possible.

If you are discharged

Before you leave, ask yourself if you:

  • understand your condition and the treatment you have been given
  • know what to look out for
  • know the details of your follow-up appointment, if you have one

If you're worried or concerned while you are in the ED, ask a member of staff for help.

If you have a less serious condition

Emergency departments are busy. You may have to wait a long time to be seen. The sickest people are seen first.

Injury units treat injuries that are not life-threatening, such as broken bones.

What an injury unit can treat

If you need less urgent treatment, phone your GP. If your GP surgery is closed and you need urgent GP care, you should call a GP out-of-hours service.

Page last reviewed: 19 October 2022
Next review due: 19 October 2025