Paramedic delayed ‘urgent’ call to go to shops

Victoria Arnott will face a hearing in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
Victoria Arnott will face a hearing in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A paramedic told a misconduct hearing she delayed attending an urgent call to help a depressed and suicidal woman because she was ill and needed to pick up medication.

Victoria Arnott said she told colleagues she had stopped her ambulance to pick up equipment for her computer because she was too embarrassed to tell them about her health issues.

The former Scottish Ambulance Service worker was on duty in Fife on July 4 last year when she was allocated a doctor’s urgent call to attend the woman’s home in Lochgelly and take her to Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline.

Ms Arnott told the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)’s conduct and competence committee that she felt “pretty poorly” from the start of her 12-hour shift.

She said that while en route from Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy she decided to stop at a retail park chemist for medication.

“I was feeling symptomatic to a point where I was somewhat frustrated and distracted,” she told the three-member committee panel.

She did not ask for permission to stop because she was embarrassed and “not thinking straight”, she said.

Earlier the panel heard the paramedic told colleagues investigating the seven minute delay that she had stopped at PC World to pick up something for her computer.

Ms Arnott, who joined the ambulance service in 1999, said she was concerned about telling people about her health issues as “it is not the most discreet of services”.

The paramedic said she later felt “mortified and humiliated” about what she described as a “grave error”.

“I was finding it a bit difficult to understand why I let myself down so badly and in a way that I put patients at risk,” she said.

The panel heard that the call was at the second lowest level of priority for the ambulance service with a response window of one to four hours.

It had initially been received by the control room at 11.41am and was not allocated to Ms Arnott’s crew until 3.35pm.

Alice Stobart, counsel for Ms Arnott, said that given such a window, her client might be expected to know from experience that there was unlikely to be clinical or medical input necessary.

Ms Arnott said the patient was “very happy” with the service that she received.

She is now working as a paramedic with a new employer and has taken steps to improve her practices, including studying for a degree in professional practice at the University of Stirling, she told the panel.

At the hearing Ms Arnott admitted stopping en route to the woman’s home to do personal shopping without seeking authorisation from the ambulance control centre, but denied misusing an ambulance for personal purposes.

She said she thought that a stop on medical grounds would have been allowed if she had sought permission.

The panel were told that the matter had been raised with the HCPC through an anonymous letter.

Rowena Rix, representing the body, said: “It is the HCPC’s submission that her actions did fall short of the standards expected of her.

“She did on this occasion put her own interest above that of the patient, which caused a delay in the treatment of the patient.

“While there is no suggestion of any harm caused there was definitely potential for harm in this case.”

Ms Stobart said her client’s decision to stop was a “one-off isolated error”.

“This was a lady who was suffering from an illness, she was also suffering from stress,” she said.

Referring to the service’s policy on stops she said: “There does seem to be some confusion about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.”

The risk to the patient was minimal or low, she added.

The panel will rule tomorrow on whether misconduct has been proved and if so, whether Ms Arnott’s fitness to practise is impaired.

The Scottish Ambulance Service confirmed Ms Arnott is no longer an employee.