Ambulance took 70 minutes to reach dying woman 2km away

Inquest hears coroner call on HSE to review the protocols for vehicle turnaround times

Margaret Callaghan (71) from Bracken Lea at Mountaintop in Letterkenny died in the early hours of January 9th, 2018. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Margaret Callaghan (71) from Bracken Lea at Mountaintop in Letterkenny died in the early hours of January 9th, 2018. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A coroner has urged the Health Service Executive to review its protocols for ambulance turnaround times at hospitals across the country.

The call came at an inquest into the death of a Co Donegal mother of eight who died after it took an ambulance 71 minutes to reach her home just 2km away.

Margaret Callaghan (71) from Bracken Lea at Mountaintop in Letterkenny died in the early hours of January 9th, 2018. She had been released from Letterkenny University Hospital the previous day having undergone a non-emergency bone marrow biopsy.

However, her daughter Caoimhe told Letterkenny Coroner’s Court her mother deteriorated as the day went on. She was tired and frail and at 5.20am the family called an ambulance.

They called 999 three times as it was delayed and did not arrive until 6.31am. The paramedics then tried to revive Mrs Callaghan, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

The court was told two ambulances parked at the hospital had been having off-load delay problems because of a capacity issue at the hospital and they could not release their patients into the care of hospital staff.

One ambulance was queuing at the hospital for 6½ hours while the other had been there for 3½ hours.

Hospital at full capacity

Prof Cathal O’Domhnaill, medical director of the National Ambulance Service, said the issue of off-load times with ambulances around the country was endemic. He added that these delays are a consequence of emergency department overcrowding.

General manager of Letterkenny University Hospital Seán Murphy said the hospital was at full capacity protocol 94 per cent of the time during this past year.

Prof O’Domhnaill was asked if it was ever advisable that the families of patients in extreme emergencies could drive them to hospital.He replied that the HSE would never advise this for several reasons including that the drivers could be under emotional stress and might cause an accident.

Coroner Dr Denis McCauley found Mrs Callaghan had died as a result of haemorrhagic shock as a result of haemorrhage secondary to a bone marrow biopsy.

However, he said among the important facts were the ambulance off-load delays and the fact that the hospital was at full-capacity protocol. He called on the HSE to review those protocols because the present ones are “insufficient and unworkable”.