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article imageAmbulanceman Took Meal Break Instead Of Helping A Dying Woman

By Michelle Duffy     Sep 22, 2008 in Health
A Scottish paramedic failed to stop a meal break to attend to a dying woman. He was within his rights to carry out his break, the BBC has learned today. The woman died two days later. The ambulance service in question has backed the paramedic
The patient, a 50 year old woman called Catherine Cowie, from Fraserburgh in the UK, died two days later after suffering a massive heart attack. An ambulance called out to the scene but only one ambulance "technician" turned up. The excuse was, the paramedic who should have made up the other half of the two man ambulance crew was on a meal break.
The technician, who is called thus as he is not quite as qualified as a paramedic to administer drugs etc, arrived an impressive four minutes to the suffering woman after the call was made. Her mate, however was not there.
Speaking to the BBC, Miss Cowie, the daughter of the patient said she was "utterly disgusted" at the fact that the paramedic failed to attend to her mother because he was on a meal break. She intends to take the matter further and make a serious complaint. Yet it may not be the fault of the paramedic in question. Scottish Ambulance Service have a rule that staff must not be disturbed if they are on a meal break, even if they get a call, although the staff may chose to respond to calls, as the choice is theirs.
It is thought that it is possible that the woman died after her heart attack because the technician was not qualified to administer important cardiac drugs which might have saved her life. Only paramedics are qualified to do this.
The mother of three collapsed at home which is situated only 300 yards from the ambulance station where the ambulance came from, but died two days later at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary from her attack.
The woman's daughter said,
"At the end of the day, if they've got that uniform on... what would you do? Sit and have a cup of coffee or go and save someones life? I'm completely disgusted."
In their defence, a spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service added,
"An ambulance technician was on scene administering treatment to the patient within four minutes, followed very quickly by a further two technicians. Ambulance technicians are highly skilled in the delivery of emergency medical care and save lives every day. In this case they stabilised the patient and transported her to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Under the rules of the UK Government's Agenda for Change NHS pay modernisation programme, ambulance crews are entitled to a break during their shift and cannot be disturbed during that period. All ambulance services in the UK must comply with these rules, unless staff choose individually to be interrupted during their break."
Speaking for the UK's Labour government, Cathy Jamieson, who is the Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman said,
"I am calling on the Scottish Government to investigate the circumstances surrounding this tragedy to establish whether the presence of a trained paramedic could have saved Mrs Cowie's life. Ambulance crews are being asked to do their jobs under increasing pressure. Demand for ambulance services went up by 12% last year, but there was no corresponding increase in the budget. Ministers need to provide the resources to ensure that ambulances are properly crewed. It is not good enough for a vehicle to get to an emergency quickly if it doesn't contain a paramedic."
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