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August 5, 2010

UK coroner demands better training for responders who called epileptic man 'just drunk'

By Chris Jones
The Derby Evening Telegraph

DERBYSHIRE, England — A Coroner has demanded better training for police officers and paramedics after an epileptic man fell ill in custody and later died.

At the conclusion of a month-long inquest into the death of Sean Hardy, Dr Robert Hunter vowed to write to Derbyshire police, East Midlands Ambulance Service and the National Policing Improvement Agency with his concerns.

His comments came after a jury returned a narrative verdict, saying Mr Hardy, 30, had died of natural causes.

Dr Hunter said: "I found the police first-aid training was variable and generally of a poor standard.

"It would also appear that EMAS staff made an assumption that Sean Hardy was intoxicated and that was done without an assessment."

Paramedics were called to Mr Hardy's home in Chestnut Court, Pinxton, after he became ill in December 2006. But police officers, who also attended, arrested him over an outstanding warrant.

After ambulance crews concluded that he was "just drunk", Mr Hardy was taken to Ripley police station.

His condition deteriorated and officers agreed to take him to hospital, but made a stop at Alfreton police station. Mr Hardy then suffered a cardiac arrest. An ambulance was called to take him to hospital but he later died.

The jury's verdict referred to an insufficient examination of Mr Hardy, the fact that a vital patient report form was not filled out properly and that copies were not given to police or Mr Hardy.

The jury said: "We unanimously agree that on the balance of probabilities the omissions of the ambulance crew contributed to the cause of Sean Hardy's death."

The jury also said not taking Mr Hardy to hospital before being taken into custody by police was a "gross failure to provide basic medical attention". But they were not satisfied this failure was a cause of Mr Hardy's death.

An EMAS spokesman said the service had taken steps to avoid a repeat of the case.

He said: "We extend our condolences to Mr Hardy's family and offer our sincere apologies for the way in which our staff handled the situation. We will comply fully with the recommendations the coroner made."

The jury stated it did not find that "deficiencies" in training of ambulance crews or police caused or contributed to Mr Hardy's death.

The jury foreman said: "We find the delay in taking Sean Hardy to hospital from Ripley police station and the serious underestimation of his condition was a gross failure to provide him with basic medical attention.

"We find, on the balance of probabilities, these gross failures did not cause or contribute more than minimally, negligibly or trivially to Sean Hardy's death."

Deputy Chief Constable Alan Goodwin said: "The coroner has raised the issue about a training need for officers in terms of dealing with individuals who may be slipping in and out and of consciousness. We acknowledge the coroner's advice and we will examine our current processes in the light of this."

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