Paramedics left dying man to attend another call

Last updated at 18:01 26 May 2006

Paramedics who arrived at the scene of a fatal crash had to leave the victim dying in the road to answer a call to a heart attack victim, an inquest heard today.

The ambulance crew told the emergency call handler they were "caught between the devil and the deep blue sea" on finding the crash victim was suffering a collapsed lung but were instructed to leave the scene.

The Salisbury inquest into the death of 37-year-old motorcyclist Ian Thresh heard that an internal investigation revealed Wiltshire ambulance control room was seriously understaffed.

It had just half the full complement of staff on duty and was without a manager to weigh up both incidents' severity.

As the control room juggled the two, the investigation revealed, other 999 calls went unanswered.

Mobile telephone technology giving the position of a 999 caller was not working, meaning the first ambulance dispatched to the crash only came across it by accident when it was diverted to the heart attack victim.

A second ambulance arrived at the A303 at Beacon Hill near Stonehenge on Saturday, August 27 last year 20 minutes after the first 999 call.

Within 10 minutes, Mr Thresh was falling unconscious and was certified dead shortly afterwards.

The inquest heard he had been travelling at up to 90 miles per hour and the crash was caused by a mechanical fault with his Honda 1100cc motorcycle, which was "poorly maintained".

Female heart attack victim also died

The first ambulance arrived at the home of the 47-year-old female heart attack victim fifteen minutes after they were called but she also died.

The inquest heard that Mr Thresh, a married firefighter from East Knoyle, Wiltshire, was initially logged as a Category B - "potentially serious but not necessarily life-threatening" - whereas the heart attack victim had been logged as Category A - "immediately life-threatening".

Despite paramedics telling their control room Mr Thresh was in a life threatening condition, under Department of Health guidelines his status could not be changed to allow them to stay and help him.

Mark Gaastra, the Wiltshire Ambulance Service official said ambulance crews now have more power to make their own decisions in such circumstances, and paramedics have been placed in control rooms to help decide priorities.

The inquest heard from Salisbury District Hospital's Dr Neil Robinson, consultant in emergency medicine, that by the time the second ambulance arrived, Mr Thresh's death was "probably inevitable".

He said: "This was a complete tragedy in which two people died sudden and unexpected deaths within minutes of each other.

"The ambulance team personnel on the road worked in a highly professional manner.

"Mr Thresh could well have died even if he had been attended to completely by (the first ambulance) and transported rapidly to hospital. I doubt that by the time (the second) arrived, he would have survived."

Mr Thresh's father Keith, speaking at the inquest, slated a "category of shortfalls, lack of training" and said the control room was "below a minimum standard to operate efficiently".

Wiltshire assistant deputy coroner Nigel Brookes recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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