999 pledge after death

AMBULANCE chiefs in East Anglia last night moved to reassure the public after it emerged that a Suffolk woman died after the vehicle sent to help her was diverted to another incident.

Bonita Mason, 58, died from a head injury after falling down the stairs of her Eye home in May last year.

An ambulance was called almost immediately following the accident – but it was 38 minutes before the emergency services arrived.

It later emerged that the original ambulance sent had been diverted to another case in Thetford where a woman had fallen over in the street after drinking. It was diverted because this was considered a more serious case.

According to health department guidelines a “long fall” – like a fall down stairs – warrants a category B response with a longer target time for paramedics than a category A response.

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Since the incident, however, there has been a change in the way incidents are categorised – and now the most important issue is whether the patient is conscious and breathing normally after the incident.

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service said the software used to allocate vehicles had now been amended.

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She said: “At the time of the incident the key factor was the length of the fall – and in this case that led to the call being logged as category B when the fact that the patient was unconscious and not breathing properly should have put it in category A. We have now changed this so the first issue determining which category a call falls into is whether the patient is conscious and breathing.”

Other ambulance trusts across the country are also understood to have changed the way they categorise accident calls since Mrs Mason’s death.

And the Department of Health says the problem has been eliminated in the latest version of the software that ambulance controllers use to categorise calls.

An inquest into Mrs Mason’s death had been due to be held last month – but just days before it should have taken place it was adjourned until June.

Mrs Mason’s father-in-law, Dr Andrew Mason, from Norton, near Bury St Edmunds, was for many years a key member of the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service and has long experience of trauma injuries.

His family has issued a statement saying they hope that the Suffolk coroner will discover whether there are any lessons to be learned from the case. The statement also said: “We have chosen not to engage our own lawyers and remain confident that the inquest system will determine if there are any lessons to be learnt.”

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