Calls for inquiry into 999 delay as dead man named

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A DIY store worker who died after a fault connecting a 999 call led to a five-minute delay in sending an ambulance has been named, as pressure grows for an urgent inquiry.

Dennis Knox, 48, originally from Penicuik, had been working in the Hawick Homebase store on Tuesday when he suffered a suspected heart attack.

Although the ambulance station was less than half a mile away, the 999 call had to go through the Edinburgh control centre – but a fault meant it was not connected for five minutes, meaning paramedics did not reach Mr Knox for 17 minutes instead of 12.

At the same time, a technical failure in two of Scotland’s three ambulance control rooms, including the South Queensferry branch, led all 999 calls to be taken on an inferior emergency back-up system – and some were diverted to Cardonald.

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.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon vowed to keep a “very close eye” on an investigation into the incidents.

After the Evening News revealed the case yesterday, shadow health secretary Jackie Baillie said: “The 999 number is a lifeline service that Scots should be able to depend on 24/7 but has failed time and time again.

“I am calling for the Health Secretary to instigate a full fatal accident inquiry into this tragic death and to make an emergency statement in parliament to explain why this was not sorted out one year ago.

“I commend the Evening News for its investigation that exposed this to public scrutiny.”

Conservative health spokesman Mary Scanlon said: “In these circumstances, every second counts. The Scottish Ambulance Service needs to take full responsibility for these delays and launch a full investigation and be totally honest with people about staffing and their ability – or lack of ability – to receive 999 calls.”

One local resident, who asked not to be named, blasted the error as inexcusable. He said: “The ambulance station is less than half a mile away. You could walk it in under 12 minutes, let alone 17. This delay is inexcusable, and may have cost the man his life.

“Mr Knox was a quiet man who kept himself to himself, so he didn’t know that many people. He’d only been living around here for a year.”

Neighbour Derek Shotton, 39, described Celtic fan Mr Knox as a hard-working, quiet man. He said: “He lived for his job.”

Today the Homebase store manager, Colin Sturrock, paid tribute to Mr Knox. He said: “Dennis was a true gentleman, always willing to help colleagues and provide excellent customer service. His presence will be sorely missed by those who knew him best here. We would like to offer our deepest sympathy to Dennis’ family and friends.”

The Scottish Ambulance Service confirmed it was also investigating another four calls which were delayed around the same time. The lines were down for nearly three hours on Tuesday morning, between 9.45am and 12.30pm.

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.

vraimes@edinburghnews.com