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The emergency department (ED)

Call 999 or 112 in a medical emergency. This is when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.

Call 999 or 112 immediately if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack or stroke. Every second counts with these conditions.

When to go to the emergency department (ED)

You should bring someone to the ED if they:

  • are feeling unwell and getting sicker, faster
  • are sick and can't keep fluids down
  • have not urinated in over 12 hours and have no urge to do so
  • are not feeling well and become confused and agitated
  • are breathless
  • are very pale with cold hands and feet
  • are dizzy when they sit up or unable to stand
  • develop a rash that doesn't disappear when pressed

Less severe injuries can be treated in injury units.

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

COVID-19 symptoms

Call 112 or 999 if you are very short of breath. For example, if you are so short of breath that you cannot complete a sentence.

Read more about symptoms of COVID-19.

How to find your nearest ED

There are currently 29 EDs on 28 hospital sites in Ireland.

Some EDs see adult patients only and others are specialist paediatric centres (for children). These are all in Dublin. EDs outside of Dublin deliver care to both adult and paediatric patients on the same site.

Find an ED near you.

If you dialled 999 or 112 for an ambulance and you have to be taken to hospital, then the ambulance team will take you to the most appropriate ED. This may not be the closest hospital.

Find out more about making emergency calls.

What happens at the ED

EDs are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You might be referred to the ED by your GP for examination or tests. It's important to bring your GP referral letter and show it to the triage nurse as it will contain important information.

The ED is not run on a first-come, first-served basis. The sickest people will be seen first.

  1. 1. Register with reception

    When you arrive at the ED, register at reception. When you will be seen depends on how serious your injury or illness is, and how busy it is.

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

    We use something called triage to determine who needs to be seen most urgently.

  2. 2. Assessment – triage

    Soon after you arrive, you will be seen by a triage nurse. The triage nurse is trained to find out what is wrong with you and to assess how urgently you need to be seen by the rest of our team.

    They pick up on clues that make your case more or less urgent than the other people waiting. The triage nurse will prioritise you based on your condition. But if anything changes or if you begin to feel worse, please let them know right away.

    Why you may need to wait
    The ED is connected to a much larger network of people and services right around the hospital and beyond. All these moving parts work to look after you, especially if your problem is complicated or urgent.

    There are a lot of places where care, tests and results may take time and this can lead to waiting. EDs are carefully staffed with more doctors and nurses when we know there will be more patients. But even so, if we have a lot of people needing care, we need to ask people to wait.

    Bringing a family member or friend
    You may take one family member or friend into the examination room with you. You cannot bring more than one person because of limited space. It is also to protect the privacy and comfort of all patients. Sometimes just a curtain separates you and the next patient. They may be seriously ill and need peace and quiet.

    Hygiene and safety
    By keeping your hands clean when you come in and while you're in the ED, you can help protect us all from infection.

    It's important that the ED is a safe place for patients and healthcare staff. If you are aware of any loud or unwelcome behaviour, please let a member of staff know.

  3. 3. Treatment, transfer or discharge

    The majority of people attending the ED can go home after having tests or treatment.

    However, 20% to 30% of people need further tests or specialist care. These will be admitted to stay.

    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 here in the ED until we can safely hand you over to the ward staff.

page last reviewed: 30/10/2018
next review due: 30/10/2021