Busiest year for ambulance 111 Clinical Control Centres

Elliot Steel |

New Zealanders are calling 111 for an ambulance more than 500,000 times a year now, a jump of more than 10,000 calls on the previous year.

At the heart of the more than half a million calls are the 147 St John and Wellington Free Ambulance call takers and dispatchers who, as part of their working day, provide life-saving advice, direct ambulance officers and emergency service colleagues to scenes and deal with the full range of human emotions – from panic and distress at horrific car crash scenes or euphoria when successfully taking a caller through delivering a baby.

“I have listened to people taking their first breaths and listened to people take their last,” says Josh Vitali, an Auckland Duty Centre Manager.

“Our positions are pivotal to maintaining positive outcomes for patients from the time a 111 call is answered to the arrival of [ambulance crews on scene].”

St John runs the Auckland and Christchurch Clinical Control Centres (CCCs) and Wellington Free Ambulance (WFA) runs the Central Communications Centre in Wellington.

In the financial year to June 30, 2017, the Christchurch CCC answered 41 per cent of all 111 ambulance calls, Auckland CCC staff took 38 per cent of them and Central Comms took 21 per cent. Ninety five percent of 111 calls are answered within 15 seconds.

Adrian Haigh, St John Assistant Director of Operations, Clinical Control Services, says staff in all the centres work collaboratively and operate a virtual system whereby 111 calls can be answered in any of the three centres, depending on how busy the network is.

“Calls that originate in St John jurisdiction areas go first to Auckland or Christchurch and will be rerouted to Wellington if those centres can’t answer within a set time. The same applies in reverse so that WFA calls can often be answered by St John call takers in either of the Northern or Southern Clinical Control Centres.

“I’m immensely proud of the work our people do in each of our emergency control centres where no two days are the same and any call can take them down a path where lives are literally in their hands.” [See breakout quotes at end of release.]

This is the first year since St John started recording volumes in 2013 that New Zealand ambulance services have dealt with half a million 111 calls. That doesn’t mean there have been half a million emergency incidents as, often, there will be several 111 calls relating to the same event.

Mr Haigh says the proliferation of mobile phones in the community has contributed to the increase in the number of calls as people can call from almost anywhere at any time.

“The population has grown and there are also more elderly people in our communities so it stands to reason there’s more demand for our services via our 111 emergency call centres.”

Mr Haigh says 111 emergency call takers undergo a 16-week training course to become a solo call handler. 

“Call handlers and dispatchers are tolerant, non-judgemental professionals who maintain high standards through international accreditation processes.

“They are the voice of reason and responsibility on the phone when callers can be in a heightened state of agitation and stress.”

One of the most important pieces of information a call handler needs to know is the caller’s location.

“Sometimes we repeat questions to the caller to ensure we have accurately captured vital information. This doesn’t delay the help which is being arranged during the call, but it’s vital the call taker knows where an incident is located so the right care can get to the right place.” 



Elliot Steel                                                       Noreen Hegarty

National Communications Advisor                 Media & Public Relations Manager

M 027 428 5744                                              M 027 809 2058

E elliot.steel@stjohn.org.nz                             E noreen.hegarty@stjohn.org.nz

Facts and figures:

  • Saturdays are marginally busier than other days of the week – nearly 80,000 calls;
  • 9am to 2pm are the busiest weekday times for 111 calls – average 78 per hour;
  • 10am to 4pm are the busiest weekend times for 111 calls – average 76 per hour;
  • 500,000 calls a year equates to more than 1,300 calls a day

What staff say:

“We also save lives every day, and that’s what we focus on when we come to work. That’s what keeps us coming back for more, not the bad stories but the ones with the great outcomes and happy endings. Those are the ones you don’t really hear about in the media yet, ironically, they are the ones that count.” – Sharleen, Christchurch

“Whether it’s assisting someone to cut down a family member who has hung themself or talking someone through CPR on their newborn, it’s not always the patient for whom the biggest difference is made, it’s the caller. The satisfaction of turning a hysterical caller into someone who is calm and collected by the time responders arrive is a big reason we do our jobs.” – Josh, Auckland

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