The Paramedic Role in the NHS Ambulance Service

In the UK Paramedics are usually the primary clinicians at the scene of a road traffic collision, other types of traumatic incident or a medical emergency. Paramedics have the clinical training to be able to assess the patient's condition and provide specialist care and treatment to patients who are either ill or injured. 

Paramedics can administer a wide range of drugs before a patient is taken to hospital that often have lifesaving consequences.  With the correct training and experience some surgical techniques can be used to gain access to the patient's blood stream for drug administration and also for advanced airway management.  

Other high tech equipment used by Paramedics includes defibrillators (which restore the heart's rhythm), spinal and traction splints and intravenous drips, and as well as administering oxygen and other drugs.  

Paramedics are usually one of a two-person ambulance crew, with an emergency care assistant, ambulance technician or student paramedic to assist them. However, they might work on their own, using a motorbike, emergency response car or even a bicycle to reach their patients. With extra training, they could also become members of an air ambulance crew, an emergency care practitioner or a critical care practitioner.

When they arrive at the scene, they will assess the patient's condition and take potentially life-saving decisions about any treatment needed before the patient is transferred to hospital.  They then start giving the treatment.  In some situations the paramedic will treat the patient at scene and follow with advice to the patient and/or family, friends and carers etc.  Further treatment or assessment may be required and a referral to the patients GP or other health care professional.

Most Paramedics are trained to drive in emergency situations and may have the use of vehicles fitted with blue lights and sirens.  The ambulance acts as a mobile emergency clinic and provides the paramedic with the facility to be able to resuscitate and/or stabilise patients using sophisticated techniques, equipment and drugs.

As well as contact with patients and other health care proffesionals, they also deal with the patients' relatives and members of the public, some of whom may be hysterical or aggressive. They also often work alongside the Police, Fire and Rescue and other agencies. The majority of paramedics in the UK are based at a local NHS ambulance station or a large hospital along with other emergency crews, they work shifts, including evenings and weekends, going out in all weathers at all hours of the night or day.  They work closely with Doctors and Nurses in the hospital Emergency Departments.

Becoming a Paramedic

Before you look at the training routes for a career as a paramedic, make sure you know the role and resposibilites of a paramedic and make sure it is the right choice for you before you apply. If you regret signing up to a course then this could mean a lot of time, effort and money that you did not need to sacrifice.

Anyone thinking about a career as a paramedic really needs a future plan. It is not just a case of jumping in and hoping for the best. Research the role, look at all the resources on how to become a paramedic, look through some paramedic blogs and life story books to get an idea of the good, bad and ugly parts of the role. Paramedic Supplies has some great books that give you a glimpse into the daily life of a Paramedic working in the UK's National Health Service, look at the Humour and Interest section.

Look at your local ambulance trust website, we have listed all the ambulance trusts in the UK on the Paramedic Supplies - Jobs page, you will find all the websites and contact details for each ambulance trust there.  

Look on the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) website, know the role in depth and the standards that UK paramedics have to work to. If nothing else, detailed research into the paramedic role will get you ready for a university interview.  If you still want to look at applying and training as a paramedic then continue reading this page to look at the training routes that you may be able to take. 

University Route

You can apply to a number of Universities for a Paramedic course. Most NHS ambulance services work closely with the Universities to provide practice placements to student Paramedics.

The University student Paramedic courses are 2-3 years, depending on exact course and/or University. After successful completion and graduation of the final year, the student can then apply for registration with the HCPC. Once registered with the HCPC, the student can then apply to be employed as a registered Paramedic. If you have just qualified and are already a registered paramedic looking for a job in the NHS ambulance services in the UK then visit the Paramedic Supplies - Jobs page.

Necessary qualifications for University

Take a browse at individual University websites for more information and eligibility criteria.

For a full list of approved educational and training programs for UK paramedic students then click this link for the HCPC register: Register of approved Paramedic courses

Open University route

The Open University Foundation Degree is a self-funded course and will cost approximately £10,500 over a four year period. Further information regarding this can be found on the OU website

Some ambulance Trusts offer Emergency Care Assistant (ECA) roles to facilitate people to undertake their paramedic training through on the job learning, supported by the Open University. This route takes four years to complete and is subject to securing a place with your local supporting Ambulance Trust. Look down the page for ECA role information.

Qualifications to be a paramedic

there may be local variations to acceptence in individual trust areas

Necessary qualifications for most NHS Ambulance Service employment

  • HCPC registered Paramedic.
  • Up-to-date continuing professional development portfolio.
  • Category B driving licence held for at least one year.
  • No more than three penalty points for certain offences.
  • Must hold a licence category C1.
  • Current IHCD D1 and D2 driving qualification. (Ambulance Driving)
  • No more than one avoidable vehicle accident in last 12 months.
  • Able to demonstrate DBS (formerly CRB) enhanced clearance.


Emergency Care Assistant (ECA)

Brief outline of the role

As an ECA you would drive ambulances under emergency conditions, attend cases of accident and sudden illness and respond to urgent, special and planned patient transfer requests and support the work of a senior clinician. Whilst in the role of ECA, you can gain the experience and knowledge to develope whilst being paid, each regional ambulance service sets its own entry criteria and training, some trusts offer part time paramedic training whilst working as an ECA.


Explore all NHS career paths

There are many roles in health care. Find a job that interests you and discover the entry requirements and skills you need. The health careers website has information for everyone, whether you’re still at school and thinking about your options, or already working in health. You'll also find real-life stories and films of those already working in these roles. Make a difference with a career in health. Get all the information you need to take the next step in your career.