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What happens when you dial 999?

What happens when you ring 999? Dispatch Assistant Jodie explains how our team monitor incoming calls to identify which jobs need our critical care service, and how you can help patients when dialling 999 in an emergency.

A call comes into 999, can you tell us what happens next?

The call will be answered by a South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) Emergency call taker. They take details of the call and triage the patient. Each call is listed in something known as a ‘call stack’ which we monitor to identify any emergencies that may need a response from our critical care team.

What are you looking for when you monitor and listen in to the calls?

We look for any potential jobs that would benefit from advanced pre-hospital care. It’s important for us to establish more information and gain a better understanding of each call as it’s not always given initially.

We work side-by-side with a critical care paramedic who is based on the desk throughout the shift. Together we listen in to calls and identify different events in which the patient would benefit from our care. Having a critical care paramedic on hand is vital as they are able to use their clinical knowledge to identify and assess any further medical concerns.

How do you get updates about THE patient and how do you pass these onto the crew?

We usually receive updates from the ambulance crew that are already scene, or via the original call taker as the job is progressing. If our crew are responding by critical care response vehicle, we pass on the information by phone. If they are responding by helicopter, the details are sent through via radio.

Do you speak directly to the caller?

Our critical care paramedic on the desk will speak to callers; either once they’re passed on by the SCAS call taker or if we dial them back. This is so we can establish any further medical or trauma concerns which may have not yet been picked up by the call taker. Speaking directly to the caller allows us to get a clearer indication of the scene which we can pass on to our crews during dispatch.

How do you determine the correct vehicle to dispatch to the emergency?

Usually it is the closest asset and whoever is available. Both our helicopter and critical care response vehicles carry the same equipment, drugs and expertise – but the aircraft has the added advantage of being able to transport patients to hospital. We also need to consider where the aircraft could potentially land, and the distance from the scene to the nearest hospital.


What3words, and a clear indication of the scene! If the caller is in an unknown location, what3words can be an amazing tool. It allows us to pinpoint their exact location to within three metres. For example, if a patient becomes unwell after going for a walk, they could be in the middle of a field or an unnamed location – it is difficult enough describing this kind of location, let alone during an emergency. Using the what3words application helps us to find the location accurately allowing us to provide a quicker response.

Also understanding the patient’s condition and a clear description of the scene helps us to establish what kind of response they require.

What is the most challenging part about your role?

The most challenging thing about my role is not being able to attend the jobs myself! It can be a tough but rewarding job both on the frontline and as a dispatch assistant.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The people I get to work with, I love being able to work alongside so many fabulous doctors and paramedics! I learn so much everyday – particularly from the medical side of things – just having their support on the dispatch desk.

You were registered to take part in the Reading Half in April, one of many events postponed due to coronavirus. Can you tell us a bit more about why you’re taking part?

I’m gutted the Reading Half didn’t go ahead, but given the circumstances, it was necessary. I’m hoping it will still take place on the rescheduled date in November!

I have always wanted to push myself to do something challenging – raising money for a charity that does such amazing work makes it that bit easier! I am fortunate enough to see the hard work that goes on in the background at Thames Valley Air Ambulance. For me, it was a no brainer to support the charity. I know without the vital donations of our supporters and fundraisers, we wouldn’t be able to operate or give such an amazing and compassionate level of patient care.

If you’re thinking of taking on a challenge in support of Thames Valley Air Ambulance – go for it! It’s an amazing charity. Once you see the difference your donations make, you wouldn’t think twice about it!

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