Developing and delivering telephone skills simulation training for non-registered NHS mental health call-handlers

The Brief:

The objective of this initiative was to create and implement a telephone skills training program for non-registered NHS mental health call-handlers. The program aimed to enhance their communication skills and overall job performance. The hypothesis was that such training would improve call-handlers’ confidence, attitudes, and ultimately contribute to staff retention. Previous studies have shown the positive impact of training on supportive mental health conversations over the phone.

The Problem:

Non-registered staff often assume mental health call-handler roles without adequate preparation or training. As a result, they may lack the necessary skills to effectively communicate with callers, who are often vulnerable individuals seeking support. The lack of training can lead to suboptimal interactions and potentially impact patient outcomes. Addressing this issue was crucial to enhance the quality of care provided by non-registered mental health call-handlers.

The Requirement:

The initiative used a mixed-methods approach, incorporating qualitative and quantitative data collection based on the needs and feedback of the call-handlers. Simulated patients (SPs) were involved in the training to create realistic scenarios and provide a valuable learning experience. The program focused on key aspects of telephone communication, such as active listening, empathy, signposting, and handling challenging situations. The training was developed over a month and integrated into the overall training program for the call-handlers.

The Outcome:

The evaluation of the telephone skills training program showed significant improvements in self-rated confidence among the call-handlers when engaging with the public. The scenarios in the training increased in intensity, covering various topics like bullying, domestic violence, gambling addiction, and suicidal intent. Qualitative feedback from the call-handlers indicated enhanced confidence, preparedness, and improved abilities to handle challenging situations. The involvement of simulated patients in both role-playing and debriefing sessions proved valuable for the call-handlers’ learning experience and preparedness for real-life scenarios.

Tangible Results:

  • Increased self-rated confidence among call-handlers in conducting calls with the public
  • Improved communication skills, particularly in handling challenging and sensitive topics
  • Enhanced preparedness and ability to provide effective support to callers
  • Positive qualitative feedback from call-handlers regarding their confidence and job performance


Investing in targeted training and support for non-registered NHS mental health call- handlers yielded positive outcomes, including improved communication skills, job performance, and likely staff retention. The training programs focus on telephone skills and the involvement of simulated patients contributed to better-prepared call-handlers who were equipped to handle real-life scenarios. Ultimately, this initiative aimed to improve the quality of care provided by non-registered mental health call-handlers, leading to positive patient outcomes in the mental health sector.