Medical negligence is somewhat of a specialist area for lawyers. Not every solicitor will firstly recognise a culpable act of commission or omission by a medical person and secondly will know how to create a case that will win in court.
The ambulance service, the humblest element of the health care system is the exception to this. When you call for an ambulance, you need it urgently, usually. The despatcher will, usually, elicit the cause or nature of the emergency on the telephone.
If the ambulance never comes, or comes too slowly, it is clear to everyone that an error has occurred and the usual inhibiting factor (ignorance) precluding litigation is now gone.
This, amongst others, is a major reason for the concern expressed by the Minister for Health at poor response times in the ambulance service.
That the ambulance personnel are answerable for poor service is clear.
In Taaffe v East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (2012) EWHC, the court found that the ambulance staff were negligent in failing to advise a patient to attend hospital for an examination of her symptoms for which her family had called out the ambulance. The patient died five days later of a heart attack.
The court said of the staff;
“Although the paramedics’ task was a difficult one, as no doubt it often is, when all the information which should have been available to them was considered it could not properly be concluded that Mrs Taaffe’s chest pain was not cardiac in origin; the information properly available to them did not permit that to be safely or properly excluded. I accept Dr Moore’s evidence that the paramedics, on the facts of this case, should have strongly advised Mrs Taaffe to attend hospital for further assessment and I find that had she be given such advice she would have accepted it and attended hospital. Had she done so the evidence demonstrates on the balance of probabilities that her condition would then have been treated and her life saved.”
In the Taafe case, the ambulance arrived seven minutes after being called. The case was fought on the basis that the staff had fallen below the standard of average ambulance personnel.
This is not the standard that would apply if the ambulance is late or does not arrive. The Health Information and Quality Authority has set response times for the ambulance service. In the absence of exculpatory explanation of a delay or a failure to attend when called, the ambulance service is going to be clearly in default.
Defaults that cause injury or death expose the service to liability for those injuries and deaths.