Skip to main content Skip to footer

How to become an emergency call handler

To become an emergency call handler, you’ll need to complete a training programme delivered by the Scottish Ambulance Service. Once qualified, you’ll be ready to answer 999 calls on the front line of the NHS.

What is a 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 as emergency call handler

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 placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Training programme

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.

Get to know 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 the 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 in patient care and will provide reassurance that help is on the way. The callers may vary from members of the public to healthcare professionals or the NHS 24 service.

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.

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.

You’ll speak with:

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

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

Learning and development

As an emergency call handler, you must complete 24 hours of continual educational development every 2 years. This is for re-certification with the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch as an emergency call handler.

Career progression

You can develop your career by becoming an emergency call dispatcher. You can progress further by becoming a control room supervisor.

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

Navigate page

Explore careers

Explore careers

Discover the skills and qualifications you’ll need for each role and what the work will be like.

Explore careers

Help with recruitment

We'll guide you through the recruitment process, from applying online to interview preparation.

Help with recruitment