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Delays in ambulance attendance

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On 15 June this year a 21 year old pregnant woman named Malorie Bantala was attacked by two men in the street near her home in Peckham.  News reports of the incident have detailed how a neighbour dialled 999 at 8.16pm seeking emergency assistance for Miss Bantala, who was 32 weeks pregnant. More than an hour later, no ambulance had arrived on the scene.

At 9.25pm the police cancelled the request and took the seriously injured Miss Bantala to hospital themselves in the back of a police car. The hospital later informed her that there was no foetal heartbeat and she had lost the baby. The London Ambulance Service apologised several days later and stated that the incident would be investigated. Whilst details of this investigation are not yet public, it is clear that the Ambulance Service will need to ask the question, would the outcome have been different had this delay not occurred?

Prioritisation 

Each ambulance service trust will have slightly different procedures in terms of prioritising calls. Many ambulance trusts have information about how they grade calls available for the general public to see. This is the information London Ambulance Service NHS Trust have on their website:

http://www.londonambulance.nhs.uk/health_professionals/gp_information/how_we_prioritise_calls.aspx

Emergency call handlers follow protocols which guide them through questions to ask a caller so that they can ascertain how serious the situation is. The calls are then graded by urgency, with those classed as ‘immediately life threatening’ being given an 8 minute response time target. With emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes time is of the essence in order to increase the chances of effective treatment. Other calls, which are serious but where the patient’s condition does not appear to be life-threatening, will be given a slightly slower response time target.

999 calls are made in distressing situations and it can sometimes be challenging for a call operator to obtain all the information that they need from the caller. However, it is vital that the caller provides the answers required by the operator so that they can prioritise the call. In turn the operator needs to be able to properly interpret the responses they receive.

Funding stretched 

With the number of emergency calls to ambulance services on the rise in recent years, so too are the number of complaints about delays. Last year Martin Berry, executive officer of the College of Paramedics, said that this was unsurprising considering the fact there had not been the financial investment to meet that increase in demand; “Ambulance services across the board are finding it takes longer to dispatch resources to calls that are of a less serious nature… We need more paramedics.”

It seems the problem is not limited to less serious calls with NHS figures showing that last year the waiting time for the most urgent 999 calls had lengthened in the past three years. In the worst hit areas patients were having to wait 60% longer for a paramedic to attend.

Any delay in treatment can be distressing for a sick or injured person but whilst sometimes it can mean an extended period of pain or suffering, at other times the results can be far worse. If certain conditions are not treated within a certain window of time the outcome can be long term damage or even death.

There will undoubtedly be occasions when a negative outcome is unavoidable despite delay; it is yet to be made public whether or not an earlier response would have made a difference in the case of Malorie Bantala. Whatever the reason for the delay, London Ambulance Service will no doubt be keen to learn lessons from this tragic case.

If you think you, or your child, may have suffered an injury as a result of negligent medical treatment and would like to speak with a member of the Lester Morrill Clinical Negligence team, please call on 0113 245 8549 or contact us by email at help@lmlaw.co.uk .

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