How do you prioritise treatment in an emergency?

If you witnessed an incident, what would you treat first? Who would you treat first? A lot of people would just rush in and help the person screaming the loudest, but often it’s actually the quietest casualty that needs attention.

These kinds of mistakes could cost a life. That’s why it’s vital to understand the order of the steps you should take when dealing with either one or several casualties. In this blog, we will be defining how you should prioritise treatment in an emergency.

We need a constant supply of oxygen to survive. If our brain cells don’t get oxygen, they start to die within 3 to 4 minutes. The priorities of treatment are making sure oxygen gets into the blood and that the blood carries it to the brain.

The primary survey is a fast and systematic way to find and treat life-threatening conditions in priority order. If a life-threatening condition is found, it should be treated immediately, before moving on to the next step. Perform a primary survey first on every casualty and until it’s complete, do not be distracted by more superficial, non life-threatening conditions. Use DRSABC to remember the primary survey.


Make sure you, the casualty and any bystanders are safe. Don’t put your own life at risk


Quickly check to see if the casualty is conscious. Gently shake or tap the shoulders and ask loudly ‘are you alright?’ 

  • Unconscious casualties take priority and need urgent treatment
  • If an unconscious casualty is on their back, the airway can be at risk. 

Shout for help

Ask a bystander to help and call 999. If you’re on your own, call 999 and put the phone on loudspeaker.


Identify and treat any life-threatening airway problems.

If the casualty is unconscious, tilt the head back to open the airway. When the airway is clear and opened, move onto breathing.

Life threatening airway conditions

Airway swelling, narrowing or blockage caused by:

  • The tongue
  • Vomit
  • Choking
  • Burns
  • Strangulation
  • Hanging
  • Anaphylaxis.


Identify and treat any life-threatening breathing problems.

If the casualty is unconscious and not breathing normally, perform CPR. 

When life-threatening breathing problems have been ruled out or treated, move on to circulation.

Life-threatening breathing conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Crushing of the chest
  • Chest injury
  • Collapsed lung
  • Poisoning
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Cardiac arrest.


Firstly, identify and treat any life-threatening circulation problems.

When life-threatening circulation problems have been ruled out or treated, the primary survey is complete. You can now look for other, less urgent problems (such as broken bones).

Life-threatening circulation conditions:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Severe bleeding
  • Poisoning
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Cardiac arrest.

What should you do if there’s multiple casualties to treat?

Use the DRSABC primary survey to decide who needs treatment first.

A rough rule of thumb is that the casualty who is the quietest needs treatment first, whereas those making the most noise (trying to get your attention) are least serious.

Where can I find emergency first aid treatment training courses and qualifications?

The Mandatory Training Group is the leading UK provider of accredited statutory and mandatory training courses for all sectors, including health and social care, education, local government, private companies, charitable and third sector organisations.

Alternatively, you can contact our helpful Support Team byclicking hereto tell us your statutory and mandatory training requirements for domiciliary care.

Emergency first aid treatment training courses and qualifications

What our clients say...

Frequently asked questions about prioritising treatment in an emergency

Here at The Mandatory Training Group, we receive many questions about prioritising treatment in an emergency. We have selected a few of these questions and answered them below.

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How do you prioritise treatment in an emergency? - Online Training Courses - The Mandatory Training Group UK -

How do you prioritise treatment in an emergency? - The Mandatory Training Group UK.

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