Ambulance delay for dying man down to human error

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HUMAN error was to blame for a delay in sending an ambulance crew to a man who died after suffering a heart attack at work, it emerged today.

The Evening News first revealed how the 999 call to summon help for DIY store worker Dennis Knox was not connected for four minutes instead of the usual few seconds.

Mr Knox, 48, who was originally from Penicuik, had been working at Hawick’s Homebase store on September 6 when he collapsed. Despite the local ambulance station being less than half a mile away, the call had to be connected through the Edinburgh control centre in South Queensferry. But on that day the centre had suffered a technical failure, leading to all 999 calls being taken on an emergency back-up system.

An investigation has now found that a BT member of staff did not follow the emergency protocol when transferring the call, leading to the delay, which meant ambulance staff reached Mr Knox in 16 minutes instead of 12.

The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) conducted an internal and independent review of the incident, and said it had made sure BT operators were briefed on the rules when handling emergency calls and had introduced additional measures to make sure the calls were transferred.

A spokesman said: “On September 6, while the East Emergency Medical Dispatch Centre was running on contingency systems, there was one adverse incident associated with a delay in receiving a 999 call from BT. BT has subsequently given assurances to the SAS that BT operators have been thoroughly briefed on the protocols for call transfer when such contingency arrangements are in operation.

“The SAS also asked independent experts to conduct a wider review of its systems and arrangements for telephony. They identified that the SAS telephony infrastructure and support arrangements are fit for purpose. The SAS continues to monitor its telephony systems.”

Shadow health secretary Jackie Baillie, who previously called for an inquiry into the case, said: “This is a personal tragedy for the family involved and to discover that there was a degree of human error that is now being rectified through training doesn’t actually help them.”

It was the sixth time in the past year that the control rooms across Scotland have failed, forcing them to revert to a back-up analogue system, which accepts only half as many calls and does not prioritise emergencies.

In August 2010, the SAS was criticised when all phone lines at its three centres went down, leading calls to be diverted to Belfast and the north of England. The back-up system was not in place at the time.

A BT spokeswoman said ithad carried out a full investigation into the incident. She said: “BT has been working closely with SAS since the events of September 6 and conducted extensive investigations into the circumstances connected with the very sad incident.

“Since then we have jointly reviewed arrangements for implementing contingencies.”