92-year-old lies on floor for 12 hours after panic alarm cut off over £90 bill

James Milne's carer, Mary Doig, with his alarm. Picture: Dan Phillips
James Milne's carer, Mary Doig, with his alarm. Picture: Dan Phillips
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A PENSIONER who injured himself after a fall in his home was left stricken on his bathroom floor for more than 12 hours after BT cut off an emergency alarm over a £90 phone bill.

James Milne, 92, lay half-dressed and helpless for an entire night because the panic alarm hanging around his neck was rendered useless when his landline was disconnected without his knowledge.

The device sends an alert to community care workers – via a connection to his telephone – who can respond immediately in urgent cases. And the incident has led to a call for BT to review its safety procedures for dealing with elderly and 
vulnerable customers.

The war veteran, who remains in hospital, suffered injuries to his back and knee during the fall and has now developed a chest infection.

It is thought he took a tumble shortly after his final care visit at around 7pm on Monday and was discovered by care workers at his home in the west of the city at around 9am the following morning.

BT said it was “sorry to hear about the accident” but insisted it had tried to contact the vulnerable pensioner twice before disconnecting his telephone.

They also said he was not on a list which flagged up vulnerable customers, although the company admitted that was something he would have to register for.

But care worker Mary Doig, who was one of the first to come Mr Milne’s aid, said BT’s actions were “disgraceful”.

“When we found him he was in a terrible state,” she said. “He was a bit dazed, very cold and was complaining that his back was sore,” she said.

“He didn’t say much and was confused, sitting there quietly.”

Mrs Doig, 70, who has cared for the pensioner for two years, insisted he has no financial problems and always paid his bills promptly, suggesting that a recent decline in his health may have led to him forgetting the recent phone bill.

And she said she was “disgusted” BT had cut off a “vulnerable man” without his knowledge, adding that she had so far been unable to speak to a BT operator about the incident, only automated phone messages.

“I think that’s a shocking situation when vulnerable people are involved. They should have a better customer services system.

“I’m absolutely disgusted with what they did and it’s so frustrating for me because I haven’t been able to speak to anyone at BT. It could have been your mother, or grandmother that this happened to and you just think of them lying there for all that time.”

Doug Anthony, communications and campaigns officer for Age Scotland, said: “Older people should be able to enjoy independence and a good quality of life in their community if possible.

“We would like to see BT undertaking a thorough review of the safeguards that they have in place to protect vulnerable older people customers to ensure this regrettable incident does not reoccur.”

A spokesman for BT said Mr Milne’s bill had been outstanding since July 17 and he had been sent a reminder on August 9 and was called on August 24, before the line was disconnected on Sunday, September 2. It added that the bill had been paid on Tuesday, and Mr Milne’s line immediately reconnected.

“We’re very sorry to hear about the accident suffered by Mr Milne. We were not aware of Mr Milne’s circumstances and we will be in touch with him to outline our registration process for our more 
vulnerable customers and see what else we can do to make sure there is no repetition.”