Call handler/emergency medical dispatcher
Call handlers deal with emergency calls from the public and medical dispatchers make sure that the right help gets there as soon as possible.
Emergency medical dispatchers and call handlers work in ambulance control rooms, dealing with 999 or 111 calls (111 is the NHS non-emergency number). Call handlers take essential details about the patient's condition and the exact location, logging them onto a computer system. They may have to give basic first aid advice by phone in life-threatening situations.
111 call handlers handle calls from members of the public regarding non-emergency health problems. They will typically use specialist computer software to provide the caller with an appropriate response to their healthcare needs within a timeframe, and so could be dispatching an emergency vehicle or booking a GP appointment.
Emergency medical dispatchers decide on the type of response needed. This could be, for example, an ambulance, rapid response car, motor cycle or paramedic helicopter. The dispatcher looks to see what is available nearby. They have to make the best possible of resources and meet standards for response times.
Some ambulance services split the roles of call takers and dispatchers; others combine the two.
Who will I work with?
Call handlers may speak to the patients themselves. They may also deal with GPs, health centre staff (medical and non-medical), other healthcare professionals and other emergency services.
Training and development
Training for emergency call handlers and dispatchers includes:
- using the call centre equipment and software
- customer care
- communication skills
- first aid
- prioritising calls
- giving telephone advice
Want to learn more?
- Pay and conditions Expand / Collapse
Most jobs in the NHS are covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scales and emergency medical dispatchers and call handlers are usually at bands 2 or 3. This pay system covers all staff except doctors, dentists and the most senior managers. Although emergency medical dispatchers and call handlers work standard hours of around 37.5 a week, these are on a shift pattern. Shifts cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the year. So an emergency medical dispatcher or call handler’s work pattern includes evenings, nights, early starts, weekends and bank holidays.
Terms and conditions can vary for employers outside of the NHS.
- Where the role can lead Expand / Collapse
You could progress to become a team leader or supervisor. You would be in charge of a team of call handlers or dispatchers, responsible for allocating work and drawing up schedules. With further experience you could become a duty manager, responsible for the call centre during a shift.
You could take further training to become an emergency care assistant. With more experience, you could apply to train as a paramedic. You would have to pass entrance exams and meet other requirements before being accepted onto a paramedic course.
- Job market and vacancies Expand / Collapse
Most NHS organisations advertise their job and apprenticeship vacancies on NHS Jobs, including those who run NHS services. Some advertise on their own websites. You can find a list of NHS organisations at NHS Choices.
If you're applying for a role either directly in the NHS or in an organisation that provides NHS services, you'll be asked to show how you think the values of the NHS Constitution apply in your everyday work. The same will be true if you are applying for a university course funded by the NHS. Find out more about NHS values.