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Friday, 19 December 2014

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Coroner raises concern over 999 coding system

A CORONER criticised the way an emergency call, made after an elderly woman fell and broke her hip, was handled – but said it did not affect her death.

An inquest into the death of Margaret Hopkins, held on Friday , heard an ambulance triage system rated her case as low priority, because she was conscious, breathing, and her husband thought she had an arm injury.

The 85-year-old, who had Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and a history of heart problems, had actually broken her hip, and died the next day after an operation to repair it.

The inquest heard Mrs Hopkins fell in the bathroom of her home in Church Close, Lindal, on October 16 last year.

Her husband, unable to get her up, called 999.

Having been questioned by an ambulance service operator, Robert Hopkins was told a paramedic would call him back.

His son, Robert Hopkins Junior, arrived around 15 minutes later, called 999 again, and was asked more questions.

Mr Hopkins Jr said: “At that point I would have said she had two heads if it got them to send an ambulance.”

Mr Hopkins repeatedly stressed that the paramedics, when they arrived, were “wonderful”.

The inquest then heard from Angela Lee, control manager for the North West Ambulance Service, who said the total time between the first call and the ambulance arriving was 25 minutes.

She explained the original call from Mr Hopkins snr had been “coded” based on his answers, and given a risk level which called for a senior paramedic callback within an hour or an ambulance attendance within four hours.

The second call demonstrated Mrs Hopkins’ condition had worsened, due to breathing difficulties and the leg injury.

Her case was upgraded to urgent and an ambulance was there nine minutes later.

Ms Lee explained the triaging procedure was a national system approved by the Department of Health and used worldwide.

South and East Cumbria Coroner Ian Smith, summing up, said Mrs Hopkins died of acute cardiac failure due to heart disease, with the recent injury to her hip a significant contributory factor.

He accepted, on the evidence of consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Nigel Courtman, that the surgery caused heart complications, but if they had not operated, she would have died anyway.

Regarding the ambulance response, Mr Smith said: “Given that this lady was of a certain age, and she was on the floor, I would have expected a higher priority to be given.”

Have your say

A very sad story and my sympathies are with the family for their loss.
The coding system used is flawed in that it cannot possibly cover every eventuality. The DoH impose the ambulance service response targets, often they are contradictory of experience personnel.

Posted by Scott on 15 May 2012 at 15:40

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