Woman demands 999 overhaul after her brother lay dying for 17 hours

A woman whose vulnerable brother lay dying for over 17 hours after phoning an ambulance is demanding changes to emergency call-handling procedures.

Ronald Russell called 999 on 4 July last year after he became unwell at home
Ronald Russell called 999 on 4 July last year after he became unwell at home

Ronald Russell called 999 at 5:45pm 4 July last year from his mobile phone after becoming unwell at home.

The first question the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) call handler, who was following procedures, asked him, was to confirm his telephone number.

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Mr Russell, 49, a former landscape gardener who suffered from mental illness and lived alone, said he could not remember, went off to find it and collapsed.

Despite the call taker trying to telephone back three times and receiving no reply and passing the case immediately to a supervisor, no action was taken to send an ambulance or police to Mr Russell’s home in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire.

Last night the SAS said they have changed their procedures following this tragic case, but Mr Russell’s family say the changes do not go far enough.

Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, Lothian MSP, is now calling for the protocol regarding the initial question confirming the caller’s telephone number to be changed to avoid further distressing incidents.

A neighbour who heard Mr Russell’s alarm clock going off continuously the following morning called 999 and he was found unconscious at 10.30am.

Mr Russell, died later that day in hospital, with cause of death being given as a stroke.

Margo Cassidy Mr Russell’s sister, who obtained a written telephone transcript of the call revealing the conversation with the call handler - and the sound of a crash or a fall.

Ms Cassidy wants the service’s first question to be the caller’s location rather than confirming their number - already shown on the dispatcher’s display.

“Ronald’s call lasted two minutes and eight seconds. The transcript showed once he was put through he was able to speak for a short time,” said Ms Cassidy, a manager at a security alarm company.

“They asked him to confirm his telephone number and he said: ‘oh, I don’t know it, I’ve got it written down somewhere.’

“There were moans and groans from Russell and the sound of a crash. We knew the layout of Russell’s flat so we can work out where he would have collapsed. We don’t understand why the caller couldn’t have looked up Russell’s address on their system from when he had phoned them before when he was ill.

“We’re doing this campaign because don’t want anyone else to suffer like Russell or for other families to have to go through what we have.”

Ms Cassidy submitted a complaint and received an apology from Pauline Howie, the ambulance service’s chief executive, and an admission actions had “fallen below standards.”

Mr Briggs said: “It is clear from what has happened in this incident that questions need to be asked about the protocol that is currently in place.

“If operators can see the number that someone is calling from, the person should be kept on the line, rather than going to check what their phone number is. The correct protocol needs to put in place so that this never happens again to someone who is vulnerable.”

A spokesman for the ambulance service said: “This was a very unfortunate matter and we have met with the family to discuss the case and offer our 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. “However, following a review of the case, we have amended our procedures for calls with no confirmed location.

“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.”