As well as the medical aspects of the situation, being first on the scene, after say, an accident, may often require an ability to assimilate the circumstances and prioritise action. With all this in mind, it’s essential that emergency care assistants or paramedics are able to keep their heads amidst the chaos in order to make smart, lifesaving decisions. For Service-leavers with experience of using their medical skills under pressure, this might be an ideal role.
Whilst there are a number of roles connected with the ambulance service, such as medical dispatcher/call operator or those connected with vehicle maintenance, Service-leavers; even those with basic first aid or medical skills might well consider becoming either emergency care assistants or paramedics (or as they are still commonly known by ordinary folks: ambulance crew).
Emergency Care Assistants
Emergency care assistants (ECA) respond to emergency calls (made through the 999 telephone number) as part of an ambulance service team, usually headed-up by a qualified practitioner such as a paramedic. Since the vast majority of 999 calls are emergencies, these are clearly roles where a cool head is essential. For example, whist a serious cut might look like it needs immediate attention; it’s the person having difficulty breathing that has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. These are the sorts of life and death decisions that emergency care assistants are required to make daily.
Communication skills are important. Clearly, some of the scenarios that face ambulance teams are likely to be traumatic and stressful and yet amidst this melee, small details about the patient(s) may have an important bearing on the outcome of the situation, such as age, related conditions, symptoms or even what happened in the moments leading up to the current situation. Being able to talk with people, who are likely to be in near panic, shock or are themselves injured, can be difficult. The same information also needs to be passed on to other healthcare professionals as the patient is transferred from the ambulance team’s care to that of the hospital.
The sharp end
One of the essential requirements is to observe vital signs (breathing, temperature, blood pressure etc) and reporting them to other clinicians involved in the case. In some cases the ECA will be required to use the medical and life support equipment carried on ambulances, perhaps even whilst the vehicle is on its way to hospital in a ‘blue light’ situation (or they may be required to drive).
All ambulance service trusts offer initial training for new ECAs which usually takes around six to nine weeks covering subjects such as: moving and handling techniques, emergency first aid, basic patient skills as well as safe driving techniques.
Training includes practical assessments and written exams. Once you have passed these tests, you are allocated to an ambulance station and work under the guidance of a trained supervisor before working unsupervised.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are no set entry requirements to become an ECA but most employers will expect good standards of literacy and numeracy. Some may ask for qualifications such as GCSEs, NVQs or equivalent. Of course, you will need to have held a (clean) manual driving licence for at least a year. (Training for roles in the ambulance service is usually completed whilst you are working and receiving a salary – but you should check individual requirements of job vacancy notices.)
Naturally, employers also look for relevant work experience such as that gained through your Military career. This does not necessarily mean working in situations involving serious medical decisions. Indeed, because of the diverse nature of domestic healthcare it would be an advantage if you have worked with elderly or disabled people, either in paid employment or voluntary work. (First aid work would also be useful, such as volunteering with St John Ambulance or the British Red Cross.)
The pay system in the NHS is called Agenda for Change (AfC).
Emergency care assistants are usually on AfC band 3, earning between around £16,633 and £19,461.
There are extra allowances to reward out of hours, shift and overtime working.
Figures by: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk