An emergency care assistant (ECA) responds to emergency calls as part of an accident and emergency crew or at times as a first responder, using skills and procedures that they have been trained and directed to do. They need to help move patients safely and observe patient vital signs - reporting any changes to the qualified clinician - and provide and take relevant information from carers or others at the scene.
Based at a local ambulance station or at a large hospital as part of a team, they work shifts, going out in all weathers at all hours, sometimes working in difficult conditions such as in confined spaces or on a motorway.
No two shifts will be the same. They might be called out to a road accident victim with multiple severe injuries or someone who has had a heart attack in a busy shopping centre. They could be transferring a very sick baby to a specialist centre, dealing with an elderly person who has fallen down the stairs or attending a case of domestic violence.
ECAs drive a range of ambulance service trust vehicles under normal and emergency (blue light) circumstances and carry out checks to vehicles at the start of and during each shift, to make sure they are clean, have fuel and are appropriately stocked.
They need to know how to use all of the medical and life support equipment carried on vehicles that is appropriate to their skill level, and how to assist a qualified paramedic.
A key responsibility of the ECA is to make sure that equipment is carefully stored, transported and cared for so that it is always in good working order.
They also need to complete relevant documentation, be familiar with and use communication equipment (including radios and telephones) to inform colleagues about the work they are dealing with.
Although ECAs will work with a paramedic, they also need to work effectively as part of a larger team of people, including other ambulance service personnel (such as line managers and control room staff), other healthcare staff (such as doctors) and representatives from other emergency services - including the fire and police services.
A good general education is usually needed to work as an emergency care assistant, although many ambulance trusts will require around 3 GCSEs, NVQs or equivalent qualifications and/or relevant work experience.
In order to drive an ambulance, whether emergency or non-emergency, you will need a full, manual driving licence. Ambulance services use vehicles of different gross weights and staff will be required to hold a driving licence with the appropriate classifications to enable them to drive ambulance service vehicles in that particular service.
In some ambulance services, a 'standard' driving licence may be acceptable, but if you passed your test after 1996, you will need an extra driving qualification to drive larger vehicles and carry passengers. Some services may provide support for staff who need to gain further licence classifications, but this is not standard across the UK. It is therefore essential that applicants check with each ambulance service trust to which they intend to apply.
An emergency care assistant takes a six to nine week in-service training course in which they learn moving and handling techniques, first aid, basic patient skills and safe driving techniques. The course incorporates assessment and written practical examinations, successful trainees are then attached to an ambulance station where they work under the guidance of a trained supervisor for a probationary period before working unsupervised.
With further experience, an emergency care assistant can take further training and apply for positions as a student paramedic. If successful, the training offered can enable them to progress to paramedic training on an approved paramedic science degree, leading to registration as a paramedic.
All ambulance service trusts in England and Wales advertise on the NHS Jobs website. You could also visit ambulance service trust websites directly and Jobcentre Plus.
Please visit the NHS Choices for details of ambulance service trusts.