A man died from complications related to gallstones after an emergency operator reportedly refused to send him an ambulance and advised him to call back if he fell unconscious.
Mark Hemmings, 41, died 30 minutes after he arrived at the hospital on April 1, reports the Daily Mail.
Information, recently revealed at in inquest looking into the death, indicates that Hemmings dialed the emergency line — 999 in Britain — March 29 and asked for an ambulance to be sent to his home because he was in severe pain. After answering a series of questions generated by a computer algorithm, designed to aid in diagnosis, the emergency operator determined that Hemmings did not meet the criteria for an ambulance call and refused to send one.
“From what you've told me you don't need an ambulance,” the operator told him.
“But I'm in agony,” he responded.
A transcript from the call indicates that Hemmings told the operator he knew he had gallstones.
“We cannot override this and although there are paramedics in the control room for us to ask, I would not think the system would come up with the wrong answer,” the operator said, according to the Daily Mirror.
“You could try a warm bath but if you collapse, become unconscious, unresponsive, faint, cold or clammy it's 999,” she said.
A healthcare worker, who cared for Hemmings in his home, discovered him three days later, passed out on the floor, and had him rushed to the hospital.
He died shortly after arrival. An examination after his death revealed gallstones had blocked his pancreatic duct and triggered a heart attack.
Consultant Damien Durkin said the computer algorithm failed Hemmings because it is geared to identify heart problems.
“Six out of 10 people in intensive care with severe pain from this condition come through it — and it is nine out of 10 for those with less severe pain,” Durkin said. “The algorithm failed to benefit Mark.”
A specialist from the coroner’s office testified at the inquest that, had Hemmings been taken to a hospital sooner, he probably would have survived his condition.
The inquest also revealed that a doctor spoke to Hemmings on March 29, about 90 minutes after his initial call to 999.
Dr. Sri Sukhavasi also refused to visit Hemmings’ home.
“I did not offer to visit because we had an enormous amount of work that night and it is better to examine patients in a clinical setting than people's homes,” Sukhavasi testified. “I did not call an ambulance because I knew he had already been told one was not necessary. In hindsight when he said he was in pain I should have explored further what was causing it.”
Ian Smith, the coroner heading up the inquest, said it appeared as though Hemmings “fell through gaps in the system because he was not pushy enough.”
Smith is expected to render a verdict on the matter by Nov. 14.