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.

Working life

Call handlers and emergency medical dispatchers work in ambulance control rooms as part of a team.  



Working quickly and calmly, call handlers take essential details about the patient's condition and location, logging the information onto a computer system. The information is then passed to an emergency medical dispatcher who makes decisions about how best to handle the situation.

Thinking fast, multi-tasking and using their initiative, call handlers and emergency medical dispatchers often work under great pressure. They might deal with life-or-death emergencies such as a major incident, a heart attack or drug overdose, or be faced with a situation such as a child with a suspected broken leg.

In extreme cases, they may have to talk a member of the public through an emergency procedure, such as clearing an obstruction from someone's airway. Or they might need to persuade someone they should visit their GP or emergency department rather than sending an emergency vehicle to them.

Emergency medical dispatchers receive details of 999 calls via the exchange operator for someone requesting an ambulance. Using their training, they ask a series of questions to ensure the most appropriate help is dispatched. They use a triage system to assess the type of emergency and determine the response needed, for example ambulance, rapid response car, motorcycle or air ambulance.

While the clinicians are on their way, the emergency medical dispatcher can pass them further essential details so they can go into action when they reach the scene. The pace can be furious and they could need to dispatch 15 vehicles an hour as well as dealing with queries from crews.

Some ambulance trusts combine the roles of call handler and emergency medical dispatcher, and there are opportunities to work as a call handler with the NHS 111 service.

NHS 111 call handlers handle calls from members of the public about 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.

Who will I work with?

Call handlers and emergency medical dispatchers 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:

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