Ambulance staff care for ill and vulnerable patients while transporting them to hospitals and other medical facilities, and their homes.
There are three main types of ambulance crew:
Paramedics - are the most highly trained ambulance staff. For more information about becoming a paramedic (see our job guide - Paramedic).
Ambulance Technicians - who respond to emergency calls. They help paramedics to give patients the urgent care they need, while ensuring they get to hospital quickly and safely. They also handle routine transfers if the patient has more complex needs.
Ambulance Care Assistants - who carry out non-emergency journeys which make up around 90 per cent of ambulance trips. They drive frail or elderly people to and from clinics, day care centres and routine hospital appointments. This is sometimes known as the Patient Transport Service (PTS).
Ambulance technicians must be able to deal with serious illness and injuries. For example, they are trained to:
Ambulance Care Assistants are mainly concerned with lifting, moving and driving their patients in safety and comfort. However, they also need life-saving skills in case of emergency.
In addition, technicians and care assistants are both expected to:
Care assistants drive specially designed vehicles, which usually have a tail-lift. They may also use cars. Technicians are usually based in conventional ambulances, which are well equipped with technology and drugs to support patients. They may also work on air ambulances or motorcycles.
An ambulance person generally works alongside one colleague as part of a crew; care assistants work together, while technicians are paired with paramedics. They also work closely with other healthcare staff.
Ambulance people in the National Health Service (NHS) typically work around 40 hours a week. Ambulance care assistants normally work regular office hours. Ambulance technicians work shifts, including nights, weekends and public holidays. Part-time work is common in the ambulance service.
Ambulance staff spend much of the time in their vehicles. A driving licence is essential. Many ambulance services require staff to hold a licence to drive larger vehicles.
Care assistants spend part of their time in hospitals, clinics, care homes and patients' homes. Technicians may be called to any location and are expected to work in some demanding situations, such as in the aftermath of road accidents or violent crimes.
Lifting and moving patients is a key part of the job, so physical fitness is important. All ambulance staff wear uniforms.
Trainee Care Assistants may start on a salary of around £12,177 a year. Technicians may start on around £16,405.
Most ambulance staff (around 40,000) are employed by NHS ambulance services, which operate throughout the UK. A few work for private ambulance services and in the Armed Forces.
Competition for trainee technician posts can be keen.
NHS ambulance jobs are advertised by the 13 local ambulance trusts in England and the national services for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Vacancies are also found in the local press and on the website, www.jobs.nhs.uk.
Employers expect applicants to have a mature outlook. Having some experience of voluntary work in the healthcare sector may boost employment prospects.
Applicants must have a clean driving licence (although some services accept people with up to three penalty points on their licence). It may be necessary to have a licence for driving larger vehicles. Some services may support staff to gain the required standard of licence.
In addition, applicants have to pass:
Entry requirements for this job vary. Some health services do not require set qualifications, while others may ask for at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.
The Scottish Ambulance Service prefers applicants to have three S grades for a trainee care assistant post, and two H grades or equivalent qualifications for a technician post.
Ambulance care assistants go through a training course of two to four weeks. The content varies between services, but includes:
After assessment and exams, successful candidates work under supervision for a probationary period.
Ambulance technicians have an intensive training course, lasting up to 20 weeks. The content includes:
Successful candidates work under supervision for up to a year. They must then pass written and practical exams before becoming qualified ambulance technicians.
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An ambulance person must be:
Qualified technicians can apply to train as paramedics. This involves further training of 10 to 12 weeks, split between classroom learning and experience in hospital departments. Qualification follows a final assessment.
Ambulance workers may also move into other roles in the ambulance service. They may, for example, take a co-ordinating role, working in the control room. With experience, they may also move into non-operational roles such as training or health and safety.
The College of Paramedics,
28 Wilfred Street, Derby, Derbyshire DE23 8GF
Tel: 01332 746356
Health Professions Council (HPC), Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service,
Site 30, Knockbracken Healthcare Park, Saintfield Road, Belfast BT8 8SG
Tel: 028 9040 0999
Scottish Ambulance Service,
National Headquarters, Tipperlinn Road, Edinburgh EH10 5UU
Tel: 0131 446 7000
Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust,
HM Stanley Hospital, St Asaph, Denbighshire LL17 0WA
Tel: 01745 532900
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.