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Emergency medical dispatcher/call handler

Emergency medical dispatcher/call handler

An emergency medical dispatcher is a key member of the ambulance service trust's control team. Some ambulance services split this role into call takers and dispatchers.

Where the role is split, call handlers answer 999 calls from the public and GPs. Working quickly and calmly, they take essential details about the patient's condition and the exact location, logging them onto a computer system. This information is then passed onto an emergency dispatcher and then used to make important decisions about how best to handle the situation.

Where the roles are combined, emergency medical dispatchers answer urgent calls made to the control centre. Working under the direction of a control officer, they take the essential details, decide on the type of response needed and, if appropriate, dispatch the nearest ambulance, rapid response car, motorcycle or paramedic helicopter.

They have to ensure the best possible use is made of resources and that standards for response times are met.

Entry requirements

There are no national academic minimum standards for control room staff, and the different ambulance service trusts vary in their general requirements. Although a good general education and keyboard skills are needed by most employers, many employers may require more developed computer skills; a knowledge of map reading and local geography; GCSEs (including English, maths and a science); a typing qualification and/or some understanding of medical terminology.  Staff working in a multicultural area may be at an advantage if they have the ability to speak another language.


You will be trained in-house, either in a classroom or on the job. Training varies between the emergency and patient transport services. You will learn how to use the switchboard, radio communications and other equipment. Emergency medical dispatch training will also cover topics such as first aid; the work of accident and emergency crews; prioritising calls; giving telephone advice and using computerised command and control systems.

Career progression

Senior call handlers may have to talk to a member of the public through procedures to resuscitate an unconscious patient or deliver a baby while the ambulance is on its way.

There are opportunities to progress to supervisory roles within a control room, such as a control room superintendent/duty officer and later to become a control room manager. Such roles include ensuring that there are adequate resources to deal with emergency calls.

Further information

You should contact the ambulance service trust in the area where you want to work to find out about their particular requirements. Details of ambulance service trusts are available on the NHS Choices website.

The Ambulance Service Network represents ambulance services across the UK.

Applying for job vacancies

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.