Emergency call handler

The first chain of survival in dealing with medical emergencies often begins with the emergency call teams. Emergency call handlers must remain calm under pressure. They help callers to provide the information needed for the best response to an emergency.

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To become an emergency call handler, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Maths
  • Geography

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS. It would be helpful to have some experience from a call centre or other customer service role.

The role

You will answer 999 calls from people in different medical situations. Your role will be to find out as much as you can from the caller and appropriately manage this information.

You’ll electronically record the details of the call, including exact location and what happened. You’ll then pass the call to an emergency dispatcher who will make sure the right assistance gets to the patient.

You’re the first link inpatient care and will provide reassurance that help is on the way. The callers may vary from members of the public to hospitals or the NHS 24 service.

What you’ll do

Your main tasks include:

  • keeping the caller calm to get valuable information
  • finding out the location and details of what happened
  • helping people cope until an ambulance arrives
  • deciding whether the caller needs an ambulance, car, motorbike or helicopter
  • contacting ambulance crews and providing essential information
  • logging calls and events onto the computer

You must be prepared to give basic first aid advice to people facing life-threatening situations. You may have to guide someone through performing CPR, coach them through clearing an obstruction from someone’s airway or even help deliver a baby.

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • active listening
  • caring for people
  • communicating with people
  • critical thinking skills
  • decision making
  • persuasion skills
  • working in a team

You need to type quickly and accurately, with a minimum typing speed of 30 words per minute.

Who you’ll work with

You’ll speak with:

  • patients
  • GPs
  • healthcare staff
  • other emergency services depending on the situation

Working environment

You will work in a control room as part of a team. It may be emotionally demanding, but it can also be very rewarding.

Useful information

To work as an emergency call handler in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

The Scottish Ambulance Service responds to around 1.8million calls per year.

Learning and development

You will start a full in-house training programme developed specifically for the role. The programme includes:

  • using the call centre equipment and software
  • customer care
  • communication skills
  • first aid
  • prioritising calls
  • giving telephone advice

You’ll be required to complete an induction week, which is followed by three weeks of classroom training mixed with buddying over 10 weeks. After this, you can begin to work unaided.

The National Academy of Emergency Dispatch will also require you to complete 24 hours of continual educational development every two years. This is for re-certification as an emergency call handler.
You can develop your career by becoming an emergency call dispatcher. You can progress further by becoming a control room supervisor.

Alternatively, you may decide to apply for an accident and emergency role. The ambulance technician programme could lead to a job as an ambulance technician.