Health minister branded “disgusting” after refusing family’s request for 999 call rule change

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HEALTH Secretary Shona Robison has sparked fury by ruling out a grieving family’s request to change 999 rules.

Ronald Russell collapsed while he was making an emergency call as the handler asked for a phone number already displayed on their system rather than an address.

As a result, an ambulance was never sent and the 49-year-old from Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, was found dead the next day.

Mr Russell’s sister, Margo Cassidy, is campaigning for ambulance call handlers to ask for an address first.

Mrs Cassidy, from Airdrie, North Lanarkshire. today revealed that Robison had ruled out the change.

The 52-year-old said she was “incensed” and “disgusted”.

Ronald Russell collapsed at his home after calling 999 and wasn’t discovered until the next day

Robison, writing to Mrs Cassidy’s MSP, Alex Neil, said: “It is essential that we ensure that incidents like the one experienced by Mr Russell and his family never happen again and I offer my sincere condolences to Mr Russell’s for their sad loss.

“As the service has pointed out in their response it is important that call handlers are able to confirm a patient’s telephone number at the beginning of any call to ensure that they have the capability to call them back should the call be disconnected for any reason.

“I am happy that this is the correct procedure to ensure safety of patients.”

Mrs Cassidy responded: “It’s disgusting, I waited so long for that response and it’s just hitting another brick wall. When I read it I was so angry, and disappointed. It’s not about our loss any more, it’s about the lives that we could save.

“I don’t believe that Ronald was the first person this has happened to.”

She added: “It’s just ludicrous to think that the first thing they ask for is a phone number, I couldn’t believe it when I found out, and most people wouldn’t believe it either. You would just assume it is an address.

The full letter sent by Shona Robison to MSP Alex Neil

“I don’t believe Shona Robison even read the evidence I sent to her, because if she had she would have reached a different conclusion. I have spoken to other ambulance services in England such as Cumbria, London, Sussex and others, who all ask for a location first.

“I know she gets a lot of bad press but now I understand why. She is not effective in that role.”

Mrs Cassidy now hopes to arrange a meeting with the Health Secretary. She added: “I’d like her to tell me to my face why no changes should be made.”

On July 4 last year Mr Russell, who suffered from mental illness and lived alone, called 999 from his mobile.

Mrs Cassidy said she was “incensed” and “disgusted” by the letter she received from Shona Robison (pictured)

Following procedure, the call handler asked for Mr Russell’s number – but he couldn’t remember and collapsed when he went to find it.

The call handler tried to call back three times but had no reply, and passed the case immediately on to a supervisor.

However, this was not followed up. No ambulance or police were sent to Mr Russell’s home, and he was discovered unconscious by a neighbour 17 hours later.

A disturbing transcript of the call revealed the handler repeatedly asked for a phone number followed by sounds of Mr Russell collapsing and groaning. The call handler hung up after a few minutes,

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “The incident involving Ronald Russell was tragic and my sincere condolences go to his family for their sad loss.
“It is essential that improvements are made so that tragic incidents like this do not happen again. Following the concerns raised by Mr Russell’s family, I asked the Scottish Ambulance Service, to consult with other Service’s throughout the UK and Ireland, and as a result it will now review its call handling processes, including whether to ask for a patient’s address first.
“This review will help the Service ensure that they have the best process in place to meet the needs of patients.”

A spokesman from the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We have been working very closely with the family since the case to listen to their views and offer our sincere sympathies.

“Asking for a telephone number at the start of a call is vital as it enables our dispatchers to quickly ring back if a connection is interrupted. Since this case, we have brought in new national procedures and our call handlers will attempt to return a call three times. If this fails, it is passed to a supervisor who will carry out further location searches using mobile phone triangulation and by contacting Police Scotland for assistance.

“However, in light of the on-going discussions we have been having with the family, we are currently undertaking a review into our call handling procedures to see if any improvements can be made.”

Mr Russell’s sister Mrs Cassidy has launched a petition for changes to be made to procedure. To sign and support a change in the process, go to: https://www.change.org/p/lives-at-risk-do-you-know-scottish-ambulance-999-first-question-is-please-confirm-your-phone-number-which-is-already-on-the-screen-this-must-be-changed-to-location-first

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