It would appear that the radio system that the LAS uses has been in the news of late – claims that it doesn't work in the rain, or that vehicles are without radios.

Or vehicles use the 'Airwave' standard, a digital network shared by, amongst others, the police. We have a main set that is fixed to the ambulance and should have two handsets that we carry everywhere with us.

I can only talk personally, but in my experience the radios are often a bit flaky (but remember that this is a system that was forced on us by the government), but not any flakier than any digital phone network.

The problem is that they are digital, if they have a poor signal then they just refuse to work, unlike the old VHF analogue radios that would transmit, although over a load of static. With analogue though the human brain is a great signal filter, and so you could make yourself understood. With a digital system you just have silence.

So it's not perfect, but it's not bad – at least we have handsets now, it's been something we've been wanting for crew safety for quite some time.

As for not having radios on vehicles – I suspect that the spokesperson for the LAS is counting the main set in the vehicle as a radio (quite rightly as that is all we have had for years), but the HSE are also counting the portable handsets.

These do go missing, but there is normally at least one handset on a vehicle. When we were trained in the use of the radios we were told about the system for replacing them if one should go missing – sadly this seems to have gone out of the window.

Oh well, no change there.

The switch to digital has meant some changes. For example you can no longer hear everyone on the radio talk group, so you have no idea where your workmates are or what they are doing – this results in much less awareness at street level of the situation across your sector. I can't tell if a hospital is full or not just by listening to the radio, nor can I hear if any crew needs assistance. This makes you feel a lot more isolated on the road.

The other side effect of not hearing the rest of the talk group is that, when it is busy, you 'buzz in' to talk to Control, but you don't get an answer, all you have is what seems like an empty channel while Control seemingly ignore you. With the old system you would hear them talking to the other crews, and so you would know that they were busy so you knew you weren't being ignored.

Overall, the provision of handsets has made crews safer, although I can't comment on the panic button as I've never had to use it. Some things are better, some things are worse. But at least the LAS has made the effort and the problems are with the design of the system rather than with the LAS.


Can I also take a moment to mention one thing that I forget to write about in the last 'Transplant' post – that you should also discuss your being on the donor list with your family, so that they are prepared should the worst happen and that they know your wishes and don't overturn them. You might also be able to persuade some of them to sign up as well.


Finally, big changes coming up, but it's something that I need to sit and write with plenty of time, not fire out in the half hour before I leave for work. And I'm not just talking about the NHS White Paper.

9 thoughts on “Airwave”

  1. Continue with St John, get some duties done – as wide a variety as possible, join in with other couties duties if necessary. Once you've got a bit of hands-on experience at the basics, go on to Patient Transport and Emergency Transport Attendant qualifications (some people go all the way as fast as they can, but in my experience the best ones get the experience at each level before going further).Get as much experience as you can at each level. You'll see so many different types of casualties, some nice, some not so nice. Experience the reality of the patients you can't help before going all the way to paramedic, especially if LAS isn't recruiting at the moment.

    Given you're looking at LAS, I know London District SJA do a lot of very varied duties, so do Surrey. Surrey do NHS ambulance support, not sure about London. Basically get as much experience as you can. It can be a tough career, but it can be rewarding if you can cope with the bad as well as the good.

    Good luck!

  2. London SJA takes over LAS calls when large scale emergencies come up (e.g. the 7/7 bombings), so I will hopefully get lots of experience with them.I rely on public transport/cycling for getting around, so looking at units in Surrey is not really an option purely because of costs: I'm unemployed (hence asking about how I'd go about getting a job with LAS! :))

    Thanks for your tips; obviously continuing with SJA duties was in the plan anyway, but I'm thinking about paid work at the moment as being on JSA sucks. (Alas, SJA aren't hiring in London at the moment…)

  3. This is unrelated to this particular post, but I hope you can help me anyway. Somehow, even after years of reading your blog and having read both your books, I've found myself wondering if joining the LAS might be a career move for me; my one ambition is to make a positive difference to people's lives and I've done that so far by getting involved in politics and campaigning for social change. At one point, I was planning on teaching, but dropping out of uni put a dampener on that one. I've trained as a St John Ambulance first aider and within 20 minutes of passing my validation found myself kneeling next to a casualty for the first time. I've not even done a duty yet, and already find myself hooked on being able to help people and save lives.When I looked at the LAS website, it seems they are not recruiting student paramedics this financial year, and although the closing date has not yet passed for positions in dispatch, it doesn't seem to be possible to do more than register interest at the moment (looking at that with the hope that I might progress to learning to be a paramedic after doing dispatch for a while). I'm wondering – do you have any idea where else I might look? Any tips, etc. – or the opposite, things I shouldn't be aiming for?

    My email is – it would be good to hear from you, if you don't mind emailing, or other ways of contacting me are listed here:

  4. You've got it set up differently from us, then. Airwave can be set so that you can hear everything that's going on. My force has gone too far the other way – everything is done so that everyone can hear it, which is overwhelming for the poor radio operator in the control room!Weather and atmospheric conditions will affect any radio system, but as for it not working in the rain? Utter rubbish.

  5. I agree- the problem with ambulance airwave is not the tech but the way it's used- we only use point to point calling because… Drum roll please… IT'S CHEAP! as a dispatcher and as a responder, I HATE it. It takes too long to make calls and no one knows what's going on. As for the emergency button- the 10 seconds of open speech is a waste of time. All you can hear is feedback because it group calls the other three radios in the truck as well!

  6. I'm a student with an ambulance service in the UK, both Point-to-point and open broadcast are used (P2P and paging being for passing jobs, and talking to control, open broadcast used for outstanding jobs and for major incidents).The emergency buttons also work… if they're ever used properly! The amount of times they are activated in error by crews hitting them with a seatbelt buckle, and all you hear is “aah fack, how do you turn this bloody thing off”

  7. I can't really comment on radios or airwaves as I really don't know anyhting about either of them. But, I can comment on 'Self Promotion' written a few days ago. I know, I'm a bit slow! I found your book in my main libraries 'Good Read' section. I didn't want to hang around looking for books and just grabbed a few books from this section. That is how I found out about your book and this blog. It was a fascinating if not hairaising read on what the Ambulance Serice have to put up with from the public and the system alike. We are very fortunate in this country to have an ambulance service to help when we are sick or in need of help.; in many countries there is no help.

  8. You think you've got issues with the Airwave radios, wait till you get the e-PRF. I've just spent the day learning how to use it and my head is still spinning and I've got another day of it tomorrow. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, well its a laptop with patient report form software. The road staff I've already spoken to are concerned that it's going to take so long to fill the ePRF out, so increasing turn around times at A & E ( 'coz you're going to be stood at the nurses station filling it out, even after you've handed over to nursey ).

  9. Re the bit in the report about the lack of response from control when the orange “Panic Button” [ie Emergency Button] is pressed.This is no different from the emergency button on the Main and A and B sets on the old Cortex system. As far as I am aware there is no need to wait for a response from control, as the channel is immediately locked open and is transmitting for 30 seconds. I quote from the handy-dandy manual I got when doing my Airwave training:

    “When pressed…… [the emergency alarm button] …… enables you to initiate an Emergency Group Call. If this facility is used, a sequence of events take place within one second of activation. The terminal will illuminate the LED indicator RED, showing the unit is transmitting and an “open microphone” situation will occur for 30 seconds. When the terminal stops transmitting it will show both “Emergency” in text, and and also display a triangular warning sign picture on the screen display.”

    The way I read the above is that you can speak immediately after the emergency button is pressed. If not then it damn well should be!!

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