Ambulance service drive to recruit new health advisors to answer 999 and 111 calls

Could you be one of our new heroes in a headset?

The region’s ambulance service has launched a campaign today to help find a new generation of people to answer urgent and emergency calls for patients, fondly known as heroes in a headset.

Health advisors are the first person someone speaks to if they’re dialling 111 and 999 with an urgent of emergency health concern.

Last financial year NEAS took 439,940 calls to 999 and 864,050 calls to NHS111. A staggering 94,926 patients were treated and discharged over the telephone with a further 108,993 from 111 directed to urgent or primary care.

The ambulance service has received investment of an additional £1.7million to enhance the NHS111 service with an additional 70 health advisor posts to work in its emergency operations centres (EOC) between Newburn and Hebburn.

Gerardine Hope, service manager for call handling said: “This is a really exciting time for NEAS. Through this recruitment, we’ll be able to help more people via our award-winning 111 service and provide additional support to our existing team who have worked so tirelessly to manage an extra-ordinary increase in demand over the past 18 months, which is forecast to increase further.

“Given challenges elsewhere – particularly within primary care – we are looking to boost the number of caring, compassionate health advisors within the Emergency Operations Centre so that we can answer the calls of those contacting us via 111 more quickly and therefore help avoid those patients either calling 999 or going directly to A&E.

"We are looking for at least 70 special people to fill our health advisor vacancies – it is a demanding job that requires people with a high degree of personal resilience. We hope this campaign will encourage people to put themselves forward or recommend high calibre and reliable friends and family members to take on this rewarding position.”

All 111 health advisors undergo five weeks full time initial training – getting to grips with the NHS Pathways triage system and learning how to deal with a range of health calls, from dental pain through to providing life-saving CPR advice over the phone. They then spend time listening to calls before taking live calls alongside a coach. The service also offers a part-time seven-week training course for people who are unable to commit to a full-time course.

New health advisor calls are regularly audited for safety and, after roughly 12 months, it is expected that they will also undergo 999 training to enable them to take both 111 and 999 calls.

Head of commercial development Jonathan Knox said: “This is vital in terms of providing the level of care we aspire to for our patients. Call answer delays for patients will be substantially reduced and calls being abandoned will also reduce.

“Overall, the additional capacity will mean better patient care, and less pressure and stress on our whole call answering workforce.”

The service’s Emergency Operations Centres underwent significant change to respond to the challenges of the pandemic over the past year, coping with increased call volumes.

During the pandemic people were calling 111 in greater volumes before deciding to self-present anywhere in our urgent and emergency care system.

111 First was rolled out further at NEAS to offer an initial triage over the phone to signpost patients to the right services for their need, thereby reducing unnecessary footfall to parts of our system that were struggling to meet the pressures of operating within a pandemic environment.

Funding for increased clinical support and call handling capacity allowed the service to manage the anticipated increase in call traffic and the service now benefits from clinical support capacity across the region, which has freed up resources to focus on providing enhanced clinical assessment for those patients identified as potentially requiring a visit to an emergency department.

Over 80 percent of patients identified by the initial 111 assessment as appropriate for an emergency department are being referred to more appropriate community-based services or provided with self-care advice and information.

Health advisors are Band 3 on the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale. Find out more here:

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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