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July 16, 2013

Man dies after 911 operator refuses ambulance

The Sentinel Stoke

STAFFORDSHIRE, England — Mark Hemmings died in agony after being continually refused an ambulance to take him to hospital.

The 41-year-old had been struck down with gallstones and a routine operation would have saved his life.

But his increasingly desperate pleas for an ambulance were dismissed by a 999 controller and then an out-of-hours doctor.

Mark was finally taken to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire two days later and died just 30 minutes after.

And in a double tragedy, Mark's 60-year-old mother Sylvia died at the hospital on the same day.

Now Mark's loved-ones will get the chance to challenge the NHS at a meeting later today.

Mark, of The Broadway, Meir, had called 999 for an ambulance late on Friday, March 29.

An operator spoke to Mark for seven-and-a-half minutes and asked him questions about his condition.

At one stage, Mark was even told to call an ambulance if he fell unconscious.

But the operator refused to send out an ambulance, saying: "From what you've told me you don't require an emergency ambulance."

In response to him questioning if he needed to go to hospital, she replied: "No. You need to stay on the line."

She added: "Stomach ache is very common, not often serious and gets better on its own."

The call-minder advised Mark to take a warm bath to ease the pain and passed the case to the out-of-hours doctors agency whose GP called him back 90 minutes later.

Mark told the medic that he was in agony with gallstones and about to pass out during their three minute, 42 second conversation.

But the medic refused to visit Mark – who lived alone and could not drive – and instead asked him to get to the doctor's Basford surgery.

Mark did not attend his appointment, was classed as a 'did not attend' and no further checks were made on him.

Paramedics eventually arrived at Mark's flat on Monday, April 1 after his care worker found him seriously ill and called 999. He later suffered a cardiac arrest.

The tragedy of Mark's last two days is detailed in harrowing recordings obtained by cousin Dean Rowley, aged 40, who had been visiting Mark's mother on a ward as Mark arrived in A&E.

Fabricator Dean, of Wrenbury Crescent, Berry Hill, said: "I was really close to Mark when we were boys and even though we drifted apart, I stood over his body and vowed for old times' sake to find answers to what had gone wrong as there is no-one else around to do it.

"What should have been a simple operation was never allowed to happen because he could not get an ambulance. His great distress and pain is clear from the calls. He even mentions gallstones on both calls but even that didn't bring an ambulance.

"Because he doesn't give the right answers there are catastrophic failings in the emergency system.

"He was trying to do the decent thing and answer the questions honestly – but that did not pay.

"Astonishingly no-one even asks if he is on his own or vulnerable. I had a real battle getting the transcripts and won't give up now to make sure no-one suffers in the same way."

A post-mortem examination found Mark, who had schizophrenia and psychosis, died from his pancreatic duct being blocked by gallstones.

An extract from a medical report states: "Mr Hemmings was unwell for one week with abdominal pain. An ambulance was called for but refused."

The ambulance service is continuing its investigations.

A spokesman said: "The call was assessed using national guidelines based on the information provided by the caller. As a result the patient's condition was judged not to be immediately life-threatening.

"To try to assist the patient, the call-handler made the necessary arrangements for an out-of-hours GP to contact the patient.

"We had no further contact until two days later when a further 999 call was received.

"On this occasion an ambulance and a rapid response vehicle were dispatched, arriving within six minutes. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the man died shortly after arrival at hospital.

"The trust has carried out a full investigation which determined that the calls were handled correctly.

"As part of the process, we have organised a multi-agency meeting with senior clinicians and the family to further discuss the circumstances and establish if any lessons can be learnt."

Today's meeting was also being attended by North Staffordshire Urgent Care, which ran the out-of-hours doctors' surgery.

Its chairman Dr Prasad Rao said: "It is difficult to comment at this stage but the patient did not arrive for his out-of-hours appointment."

Copyright 2013 The Sentinel Stoke

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