How busy the HEMS desk is depends somewhat on the time of year. For the HEMS Dispatch Team summer can bring 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, the team will normally have over 200 calls, relating to Road Traffic Collisions, heart attacks and accidents, not to mention the outdoors activity that takes place all day across the South West region. Each incident 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.

How the HEMS desk works

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, we must also review each of the calls dropping onto the screen, so it requires a great deal of multi-tasking to be switching through many 999 calls whilst listening to another.

Where do we deploy?

The other big challenge for us beyond the number of calls we receive in the summer, is that many aren't certain of their location. After all, how many of us on a road trip actually know our exact location on a motorway? Or the specific country lane we're in? It's difficult enough for those with local knowledge, let a lone visitors, particularly in rural areas like Dartmoor. Sometimes we receive call where the only direction is something like, "I am en route from Penzance to Bristol and left an hour ago..."

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, together with further updates en 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...

It's fair to say the HEMS team does an amazing job helping our crews to attend hundreds of incidents across Devon every year. If you would like to help keep our helicopters flying, then find out more about our events and fundraising opportunities. You can also support us by remembering us in your Will, making an online donation, or even playing our lottery