When to go to an Emergency Department

Go to an Emergency Department for critical or life-threatening conditions or mental health emergencies. Our emergency departments provide the highest level of care for medical issues such as: 

  • Involvement in a major accident
  • Trouble breathing or catching your breath
  • Severe abdominal or chest pain/pressure
  • Signs of stroke, for example facial droop, arm weakness or slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncontrolled bleeding 

Your loved one may need emergency mental health care if they are:

  • At risk of or are threatening to seriously harm themselves or others. You can also access crisis intervention and suicide prevention services.
  • Seeing or hearing things.
  • Believing things that are not true.
  • Unable to care for themselves such as not eating, sleeping, bathing, getting out of bed or dressing.
  • Still having trouble with symptoms even after they tried treatment with therapy, medication and support.

Wait times can vary depending on time, location and your level of need. People are seen in the Emergency Department based on how hurt or sick they are, which means the sickest people are seen first even if you've arrived before them. Many of Vancouver Coastal Health’s hospital sites provide 24-hour emergency services, however operating hours may vary. Call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 to verify hours of operation for emergency services.

View Emergency Department wait times

Find a hospital near you 

Mental health crisis resources

In crisis? Call 9-1-1 for medical emergencies and missing persons. For crisis or suicide, call 1 (800) 784-2433. Online options are also here to support you:

When to go to an Urgent & Primary Care Centre

Urgent and Primary Care Centres (UPCC) provide patient-centred care by a team of health care providers, including family doctors, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers and clerical staff.

They are for people who have an urgent but non-life threatening injury and/or illness, and need to be seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner within 12-24 hours. Some examples of injuries/illnesses that may be treated at a UPCC are: sprains and strains, high fever, worsening chronic disease, minor infections, and new or worsening pain.

UPCCs provide team-based, everyday health care. They provide urgent care when you are unable to see your family doctor or nurse practitioner and your injury/illness does not require emergency attention. Please visit an emergency department if you have a critical or life-threatening condition.

Emergency department frequently asked questions

  • What should I bring to the Emergency Department?

    If possible, bring photo ID, your BC Services Card or CareCard and a list of any medications you are taking. If available, please also bring any Medical Orders of Scope of Treatment (MOST) forms or have a family member bring them in. 

    We also suggest you minimize bringing personal belongings or valuables to the Emergency Department. 

  • What happens when I arrive at the Emergency Department?

    • An Emergency Department (E.D.) Triage Nurse will see you when you arrive and ask you about your symptoms and check your vital signs. Have your photo ID, BC Services Card or CareCard and a list of your current medications ready for the nurse.
    • People are seen in the Emergency Department based on how hurt or sick they are. This means the sickest people are seen first even if you arrived before them.
    • Know that your medical records from your family doctor are not available at the Emergency Department. Emergency doctors only have information about your medical history from previous visits to that hospital.
    • Emergency Department employees are committed to providing the best quality health care they can. We ask for your patience as you wait for test results, interpretations, consultations and other information to help us diagnose and care for you.
  • What happens when I'm ready to go home from the Emergency Department?

    • ‎Your health care team will work with you to help plan when you will go home. 
    • Your doctor may write you a prescription for medication and a nurse will give you instructions on how to take the medication. 
    • Try to arrange a family member or friend to drive or accompany you home.
    • Your health care team will work with you to coordinate any additional care that is required, such as home & community care services, care at another hospital or rehabilitation services.

Nurse advice and general health information

Call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 (7-1-1 for the deaf and hard of hearing) for trusted health advice. 

This free, 24-hour non-emergency telephone service is staffed by trained registered nurses, pharmacists and dietitians who can help answer your health-related questions with translation services in over 130 languages. 

You may also call your family physician, nurse practitioner for general health information. If you have an urgent medication refill, speak with your pharmacist. They can often provide short-term refills and other advice.