AN emergency ambulance was called back while on its way to a dying woman despite her “harrowing” phone calls, an inquest heard yesterday.
South Tyneside coroner Terence Carney heard that mother-of-two Natalie Miller, 41, of Westhope Road, South Shields, made two desperate 999 calls when she began to feel unwell on June 5, last year.
The inquest heard the first call was made at 9.30am, when Mrs Miller complained of sickness and diarrhoea, stomach pains, being hot and clammy, chest pains, a swollen tongue, and shortness of breath.
An ambulance was dispatched but re-called when the emergency operator decided to seek the advice of a clinician, who called Mrs Miller but got no answer.’Harro
A second ambulance was dispatched after Mrs Miller called 999 again, at 9.50am.
Both calls were played at the inquest, and Mrs Miller was clearly in pain and distress.
She was taken to South Tyneside District Hospital at 10.40am and died at 11.38am.
Yesterday, a senior doctor said he was concerned over the decision to re-call the ambulance.
Mr Peter Goode, consultant in emergency medicine at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, said: “It seems somewhat illogical to me that this was the sequence of events.
“If you decide you’re going to send an emergency crew out, why would you stop them from going?
“If you have changed that decision because you want a nurse to speak to the person and they don’t get an answer, wouldn’t you tell the crew that?”
Mr Goode said he had no issues with the response to the second call, which was attended by both a fast-response paramedic and an ambulance crew.
Despite his concerns about the delay, he said a quicker response would not have saved Mrs Miller but could have in other cases.
Pathologist Dr Clive Bloxham said Mrs Miller died of fatty liver disease. He said that people with this disease die “very quickly and suddenly”.
He also said that the rest of her organs were normal and she was in generally good health.
Thomas Howard, head of contact centres for the North East Ambulance Service, said that there had been an investigation into the case.
He explained that emergency call takers are taken through lists of questions – called pathways – depending on the symptoms the caller is suffering.
He said that, when a person displays multiple symptoms, call takers are trained to pass the call to a clinician.
He said that call takers will soon be able to transfer calls directly to clinicians, rather than having to ask them to call the person back.
Mr Carney asked him if he thought that the ambulance should have continued to travel.
Mr Howard said: “In hindsight, with this particular lady, the answer is yes but, for the greater good, we don’t have an unlimited supply of ambulances, and if we go to every call we receive, we wouldn’t get to other people who we could save.
“There is never going to be a 100 per cent perfect system, but this system has saved hundreds of thousands of lives across the country.
“This case is really unfortunate and I’m really sorry for the family.”
Mr Carney said that it was a reassurance to Mrs Miller’s family that the delay did not contribute to her death.
He said: “The 20 minutes between that call at 9.30am and 9.50am sadly made no difference.
“There was nothing in her history to suggest this liver problem.
“If we hadn’t had this discussion about the calls, I would have recorded this sudden demise as natural causes and that is what I must do.”
The coroner said that the handling of the calls by North East Ambulance Service did not contribute to Mrs Miller’s death, but lessons had been learned.
* Finding: Natural causes