EOC blog: Being a call handler
02 February 2017
Luke has worked for us as a call handler for two-and-a-half years after first volunteering with us as a community first responder. He tells us a bit about his role in the control room.
My name is Luke and I’m an emergency call handler for the East of England Ambulance Service in Norwich EOC. I joined the ambulance service two-and-a-half years ago.
I originally began volunteering with the service as a community first responder. It was something that I enjoyed so much - helping people in their time of need, and giving that reassurance – that I began to look into job roles within the service. I had seen an advertisement on the NHS Jobs website and I thought it would be an amazing experience to hear things from the other side of the phone, helping someone the best way I could and giving instructions on how to help the patient until we arrive.
What I like about being a call handler is that it’s nice to know that you’re providing reassurance, support, assistance and getting help to people desperately needing it. I enjoy talking to the people, and sometimes when we have to stay on the call while help is coming, people will chat to you.
Understandably a lot of callers are extremely panicked by the situation that they are facing when placing an emergency call, as more than often these people have never had to dial 999 before. In those cases, we have to calm the caller down before we can progress on to the call and get that vital information we need to help them. We are trained to calm heated situations, and gather as much information as possible for the dispatcher, ambulance crew and other staff, like our clinicians in the room, who may also talk to the patient. However, this can often be very difficult.
One thing that is frustrating is the abuse that we can sometimes get whilst attempting to help some people. They can shout and swear at us, and have even made threats without giving the most basic information we need to help them, such as a location or address of where the patient is. This is not acceptable; we are trying to help them and the patient. I would say that the majority of callers are very pleasant to us, and know that we are trying to help them. They know that the questions that we are asking will not delay any help at all, but are in fact telling me how I can best help them.
One call I remember well was from an elderly woman whose husband had woken up in bed and was struggling to breathe. Without hesitation she had dialled 999, however during the call he stopped breathing. Despite him being much bigger than her, she was able to pull him off the bed quickly and onto the floor to start CPR. I was giving her instructions on how to do CPR, which she did solidly without stopping until the crew arrived, and the whole time she was giving me his medical history. The ambulance crew arrived and took over CPR, and managed to get a Return Of Spontaneous Circulation (ROSC) after using a defibrillator and shocking him. As a result of his wife’s amazing effort and determination to help her husband – he survived.
There are difficult incidents that we deal with - that comes with the job. What I take away from those is that know that I have done my very best to help that patient. Given care and compassion to the caller over the phone, whilst at the same time working to get that good outcome. There is always great support from my colleagues and we have our TRIM service, which is a peer-to-peer support, which helps us when we’ve had a particularly hard or upsetting call.
The great thing for me about being a call handler is that it’s not just working on the phone and talking to people all the time. I also act-up to the role of call handler team leader (CHTL), which provides support and acts as a liaison for all of the call handlers in the control room. I’m able to listen-in to calls that call handlers are taking, and provide dispatch with important information and making sure that everyone is aware of certain situations happening in a call.
I have also helped deliver training to new call handlers joining the Trust. Getting them ready to take their first 999 call with their mentor and teaching them how to use the triage software and techniques on how to keep control of a call.