Ambulance policy changed after woman’s stairs fall death

A SUFFOLK woman who suffered a “massive” brain injury was not seen by paramedics for 38 minutes after an ambulance was diverted to another incident deemed to be more serious.

Bonita Mason, 58, died after falling down stairs at her home in Castle Hill, Eye, in the early hours of May 24 last year. Her death caused controversy after it emerged the ambulance sent to help her was diverted to another case in Thetford where a woman had fallen over in the street after drinking.

An inquest in Ipswich yesterday heard Mrs Mason was unconscious when crews arrived. She had sustained a severe skull fracture which lead to a brain haemorrhage.

The inquest heard Mrs Mason’s husband, Thomas, had woken after hearing a scream and found his wife lying at the bottom of the stairs. He placed a wet flannel over her head but after she did not respond he called an ambulance.

Following the diversion, paramedics arrived 38 minutes later and took Mrs Mason to Ipswich Hospital where she died hours later.

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Richard Stacey, a neurosurgeon who compiled a report on Mrs Mason’s injuries, told the inquest: “It was one of the worst skull fractures I have seen for a person falling down stairs. The outcome was likely to be fatal.”

Asked whether he thought earlier treatment would have made a difference, Dr Stacey replied: “No, I do not think the outcome would have been different. However, speaking as a member of the general public, I would expect this type of incident to be a priority.”

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Since Mrs Mason’s death East Anglian ambulance chiefs have changed the way incidents are categorised. Previous health department guidelines stated a “long fall” – such as a fall down stairs – warranted a category B response with a longer target time for paramedics than a category A response. But now the most important issue is whether the patient is conscious and breathing normally after the incident.

Peter Bradley, the national director of the ambulance service, told the inquest the emergency call should have been given a category A status. Since the case, guidance issued by the Department of Health had changed the way some ambulance trusts categorised calls.

Greater Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean recorded a verdict of accidental death. Even if the call had been given a category A status, Mrs Mason would have lost her life, he said.

Mrs Mason’s father-in-law, Dr Andrew Mason, of Norton, near Bury St Edmunds, was for many years a key member of the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service and treated patients for trauma injuries. Following the inquest he said he hoped “some good” had come from the tragedy because of changes to the call categorisation system.

Thomas Mason, 38, paid tribute to his wife following the inquest. He said: “She was the most wonderful person that I ever met and she was the love of my life and I feel privileged to have had the time with her that I had.”

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