A UK coroner lashed out at paramedics who refused to get into a water-filled ditch to help a dying man because of health and safety concerns.
Road accident victim Michael Thornton was lifted on to dry land only when a policeman arrived, by which time it was too late to save him.
At the inquest into the 30-year-old farmer’s death coroner Michael Rose declared: ‘I will not say what I think of health and safety regulations. I was brought up in a country where men risked their lives to save the lives of others.’
Mr Thornton was knocked unconscious when the Land Rover in which he was a passenger crashed on the Somerset Levels and flipped into the 10ft-wide drainage ditch. His two friends managed to haul him on to the side of the upturned vehicle and attempted to revive him. But they were unable to carry him up the slippery banks.
When two male paramedics arrived they made a snap ‘risk assessment’ and refused to get into the water to help. In stark contrast, a policeman who arrived minutes later went straight into the water and pulled Mr Thornton on to the road.
His death is the latest in a series of cases in recent years in which ‘risk assessments’ stopped emergency crews from going to the aid of victims, in some cases costing lives.
Mr Rose, coroner for West Somerset, said: ‘I was brought up in a country where men risked their own lives to save the lives of others. That was a period in our history which has almost ceased. I do praise the actions of PC Day, who dived in, but by that stage it was too late.’
At the inquest in Taunton last week, Mr Rose recorded an accidental death verdict and did not say if Mr Thornton could have been saved if the paramedics had gone in.
The paramedics’ employers insist the crew had to stay dry to provide ‘advanced life support’ such as defibrillation, which could have proved fatal for everyone at the scene if carried out too close to the water.
The inquest heard that Mr Thornton, from East Brent, Somerset, had been drinking with friends Jason Cheal and Matthew Braddick, 27, at a pub in Brent Knoll before the accident last November. Mr Braddick was nearly twice over the alcohol limit as he drove them home just after midnight in his Land Rover Discovery. He crashed into the ditch in Rooksbridge on the Somerset Levels near Weston-super-Mare, claiming later that he had swerved to avoid an animal in the road. Many unlit roads in the area are lined by ditches, or ‘rhynes’, which in winter are often filled with water and can be dangerous to motorists.
Mr Braddick was later convicted of drink-driving and banned from the road for three years but Mr Rose said he did not think that alcohol was the main cause of the accident. He said they had not been doing over 30mph and may well have swerved to avoid an animal. The ditch depth was not measured but is estimated at 5ft, with knee-deep mud at the bottom. The ambulance response time was not mentioned at the inquest but it was not thought to have been delayed.
‘If the legislation wasn’t quite so stringent then perhaps the man could have been saved.’
South Western Ambulance Trust extended its condolences but said it was ‘confident the crew made an appropriate risk assessment and administered the best possible care’. A spokesman added: ‘They would have been unable to administer any higher standard of life support on an upturned vehicle, in the middle of the water, than that which was already being performed by the individual on scene.’ The crew were concerned by the unknown depth of the water. If one of them got into trouble, it would have affected the treatment they could provide, the spokesman said. ‘The clinical preference would always have been to wait for the fire service to rescue the patient from the water. There is no question the paramedics made exactly the right choices and performed admirably.’
Tory councillor for neighbouring Cheddar, Dawn Hill, said: ‘Your natural instinct would be to jump in and help. It is very sad that health and safety laws stop paramedics from doing their job.’
My thoughts on this incident
- The depth of the water in the ditch could have been gauged by the two men already standing in the water, or the amount of the Land Rover protruding from the water.
- The paramedic crew would not enter the water, but PC Daly showed no hesitation. Wouldn’t PC Daly be subject to the same OHS legislation? How was his risk assessment so vastly different to that carried out by the paramedics?
- Mr Rose, the coroner, asserts that alcohol was not the primary cause of the incident. I suggest that with a BAC of nearly 0.16%, that alcohol was a major contributing factor to the incident. In NSW (Australia) 0.15% constitutes high-range drink driving.
- South Western Ambulance Trust insist the crew had to stay dry to provide ‘advanced life support’ such as defibrillation, which could have proved fatal for everyone at the scene if carried out too close to the water. This is true if defibrillation was carried out on the upturned vehicle in the ditch. But what ‘advanced life support’ can be administered with the casualty on the side of the car in the ditch, and the paramedics up on the roadway.
- However, it is possible that Mr. Thornton’s traumatic head injury was such that he could not have been resuscitated, and drowning was secondary to that.
- The driver of the vehicle Mr Braddick was convicted of drink-driving and banned from the road for three years. This seems to lenient in the extreme. In other jurisdictions this offence would have attracted a custodial sentence. Again in NSW, aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.
What do you think?
Source: Daily Mail (online) 18/07/2013 by Martin Robinson; Photo by Steve Roberts, SWNS.com