Ambulance Service of New South Wales
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Call Taker Abuse campaign

The Need for No Excuse

Over a recent weekend, our rostered call takers tallied the abuse they endured. In just one day, one call taker answered 73 Triple Zero (000) calls. 8.32 per cent of these calls were abusive. That’s six times this person was screamed at, threatened, verbally abused, berated or sworn at.

The nature of the work our Triple Zero (000) call takers do is complex and stressful. Every call they answer is someone calling in a panic, possibly experiencing the worst moment of their life and seriously concerned for themselves or someone else.

 

Staff Impact

It’s a confronting workplace situation that has a huge impact on our staff; affecting their mental and emotional health and resilience. Paramedics are trained to follow protocols that allow them to remove themselves from a threatening patient situation until NSW Police arrive. Our call takers, however, are not permitted to end even the most abusive call.

A key focus of our efforts has been training staff in techniques to calm aggravated callers and support those who have suffered call taker abuse by taking them temporarily off call taking duties, formally debriefing them, providing them with some time out and with counselling from senior managers, peer support officers and chaplaincy support as needed.

In addition to comprehensive staff support, there are also legal avenues for recourse against highly abusive callers. Sadly, many of our call takers have come to accept this abuse as part of the role. It was a similar story reported by paramedics just prior to us launching the 2013 paramedic assault campaign. Now, just as we did with paramedic assaults, as part of this campaign we’re encouraging control staff to escalate their experiences of call taker abuse so they can be systematically reviewed and referred to police, investigated and potentially result in charges being laid under the Telecommunications Act.

 

The Campaign Message

We wanted the faces of this campaign to appear as strong, qualified, uniformed NSW Ambulance staff members who are real people, doing their best to help get emergency care to each patient; rather than present our call takers as victims. Late last year, Marketing & Media put the call out to all control staff, seeking volunteers to share their experiences and be involved in conceptualising the campaign. The response was overwhelming and as a result, the campaign features call takers from all four Control Centres - Dubbo, Newcastle, Warilla and Sydney. Fifteen representatives were chosen to travel to Sydney for the campaign shoot and participate in a focus group to share their job experiences.