A Day In The Life Of A Call Handler

No two days are the same for an NHS 111 call handler. The role is fairly similar to that of a call centre operative, however, 111 call handlers will largely be talking to patients and their relatives who are seeking medical advice and information.

It can be a challenging role that will test your perception and instincts to ensure that a caller is put through to the correct services and receives the right guidance to best solve the caller’s enquiry.

Main duties of a call handler

Unlike Emergency 999 calls, where a Call Handler would need to keep the caller calm yet quickly ascertain the nature of the injury and the address, NHS 111 calls can be slightly more complex. This is because the Call Handler must make a clinical assessment based on the caller’s needs.

The main duty of a Call Handler is to handle all incoming calls to the NHS 24 contact centre, then to collect and record any necessary or appropriate information. A Call Handler will also direct an enquiry to the most relevant service for health information, and will decide whether or not to place the call on the First Advice Queue when Call-Backs are in operation.

A Call Handler will also monitor the communication process between the NHS 24 service and Partner organisations, including Out of Hours services and A&E Departments, ensuring that any relevant documents are properly sent and received. This is done through a management solution system known as Adastra or Advanced Adastra.

Handling a phone call

As the first point of contact, a Call Handler must establish the nature of the call and identify the best assistance required to solve the issue for the patient, carer or relative that has made the enquiry. A key skill which is taught in the training stage is called “probing”. This is encouraged to find out as much information about the caller’s symptoms as possible.

After receiving the call, a Call Handler will then access patient records, which are logged electronically to ensure that they are relevant and up to date. Here, good communication skills are key, as a Call Handler must remain calm, patient and be respectful of a patient’s confidentiality.

Working within the NHS 24 legislation and requirements, a Call Handler will establish whether emergency services need to be contacted. During busy periods, a Call Handler must remain level-headed, and use their knowledge and questioning skills to assess whether it is safe to put a call into the First Advice Queue or through to a priority nurse or Team Leader.

When in Call-Back, a Call Handler will offer comfort to a caller and explain why there is a delay in having their call passed on to a Nurse Advisor. Here, a Call Handler must assess whether a patient needs more urgent attention or can have their call placed safely back into the First Advice Queue.

To ensure that the NHS 24 system is working as efficiently as possible, a Call Handler must also inform the relevant team members about any feedback received, and will contribute to any project work that aims to improve the service.

While full and part-time positions are available, a Call Handler will mainly be required to work evenings and weekends. Salary is typically Band 3, with added enhancements to compensate working unsociable hours.

Training and entry requirements

To become an NHS 111 Call Handler, an applicant must have:

  • at least five GCSEs (or equivalent), which must include English
  • data entry and typing skills
  • confident use of electronic and computer based information systems
  • proof of excellent customer service experience
  • demonstrable listening, analytical and decision making abilities
  • excellent communication skills
  • a methodical approach to problem-solving
  • a personable character
  • a friendly, tentative demeanour

Applicants will then go through a recruitment process, which includes an online listening and typing assessment as well as an interview. A Call Handler applicant will also require a medical and DBS check.

All Call Handlers must go through NHS Pathway training, which includes modules covering basic anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology. Trainee Call Handlers will also be educated on how to make clinical decisions within the context of using the system. A Call Handler will only be able to take live calls when their training has been completed.

To ensure that a Call Handler is working to their best ability, a monthly assessment is carried out; a recorded phone call is selected at random and assessed for quality of performance.