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The HEMS Dispatch Team

By Guest Blogger: Nicola Bolt
HEMS Dispatch Supervisor, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

Summer time is here - apparently, although if you’re looking out the window at this point you could be forgiven for thinking it is October!!

For the HEMS Dispatch Team this brings a number of additional challenges, first and foremost the increase in the number of calls the ambulance service starts to receive as more of us are out and about enjoying the summer holidays. On an average day now, we will normally have over 200 calls, such as Road Traffic Collisions, heart attacks and accidents, constantly active all day across the South West region and each of these needs reviewing as they are received to establish whether the patient would benefit from an Air Ambulance being deployed. As fast as one incident is completed it is replaced with another so it is non-stop for the 12 hour shift (fitting in a wee break is tricky, LOL!)

999 calls are received and triaged by the call handlers and once the address / location and reason for call is completed it appears on our screens. It would be nice if they arrived one at a time but this isn't the case and at peak times ten 999 calls could easily all be received at the same time. As such we have to flip between calls to identify initial information.  At that point we can then listen in on the call to hear first-hand what the caller is saying - this is such an important element of the review for us as the triage pathway seeks to ascertain answers to very specific questions, however extra things distressed callers mention are often crucial in helping us decide quickly whether or not the air ambulance team is going to be required.  Whilst listening in though, we also still have to be reviewing all the calls still dropping onto the screen, so it requires a great multi-tasking skill to be switching through many 999 calls on the screen whilst listening to another!

The other big challenge for us is the number of visitors in the area at this time of year – a lot of who don't actually know where they are when they ring us! How many of you on a road trip actually know where on the motorway you are? Or exactly what that country lane you walk down is called? Difficult enough for us and often impossible for visitors to the area, particularly in rural areas or in places like Dartmoor and bridleways!!! On a number of occasions we have had a callers stating things like “…I am on route from Penzance to Bristol and left an hour ago.....................”!!

In order for us to send the air ambulance team to them we have to first ascertain where they are and often we only have an approximate location for the aircrew to head towards and then we have to try and narrow the location down by talking to them whilst the aircrew are also trying to spot them waving once they are nearby.

More deployments for the air ambulance teams also means more radio calls between them and the HEMS dispatcher to confirm location and incident details initially, but also any further updates on route that we may have received and then the liaison between the aircrew and the hospital once the patient has been located, treated and loaded. Multiply this by 6 air ambulances under the HEMS Dispatcher's control and there is a lot of essential chatter ongoing as well!

Of course all this is taking place whilst the calls are still rolling in...............................

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