999 ‘confusion’ told in inquest into death of 14-year-old Huntingdonshire girl
21:32 04 March 2014
Confusion over a postcode at an emergency call centre in Norfolk sent an ambulance to the wrong address while a 14-year-old girl suffered what proved to be a fatal asthma attack, an inquest was told yesterday (Tuesday).
On the opening day of evidence at Huntingdon Law Courts, coroner David Morris was told Hinchingbrooke School pupil Elouise Keeling, of Grafham Road, Ellington, had needed an ambulance at RAF Brampton where she was training with 73 Huntingdon Air Training Corps.
The ambulance was sent 10 miles away to RAF Wyton, despite “confusion” about RAF Brampton’s postcode having been recorded twice before.
On June 25 last year, that confusion saw an operator have to send out a second ambulance to Elouise – known as Ellie – who had suffered from asthma from the age of eight or nine.
The inquest was told her condition had worsened in the months leading up to her death. She had asthma attacks every couple of months and her inhaler had to be replaced every four days.
In a statement her mum, Karen, said: “When I dropped her off, Elouise seemed absolutely fine, she wasn’t unwell at all. I asked if she had her inhaler and she said ‘yes’.”
The air cadets begun training with some jogging but Ellie was soon having trouble breathing.
Cadet Cpl Alexander Parker, 17, phoned Michael Smith, a senior air cadets instructor, who had briefly left the cadet group to retrieve an item.
Mr Smith said he drove back to the field and attempted to assist Ellie before calling an ambulance at 7.44pm. He estimated the time between the initial call from Cpl Parker and his 999 call was about five minutes.
He said: “I emphasised that there were two bases and they weren’t at the same place.”
More attempts were made to help Ellie. Flight Lieutenant Adam Cook said: “I encouraged her to take her inhaler as she laid down but it became quite clear that she was struggling to get it in her body.”
Meanwhile Mr Smith stayed on the line for nearly 17 minutes while call handler Suzanne Truston helped him to monitor Ellie’s breathing.
The inquest was also told that 999 call handlers have two screens – one to input a postcode and one to view a location based on the mobile phone signal.
The postcode pointed the emergency services to RAF Wyton and, as the mobile phone location service has only 90 per cent accuracy, a first ambulance
headed to Wyton.
The call handler told the court that the screen showed the location as ‘RAF Brampton and Wyton’.
A transcript of the emergency call from Mr Smith includes him saying the two bases were “linked”.
Giving evidence in a statement, Ms Truston said: “I thought of link as in a link on a bracelet, close by, maybe across the road or a little bit further down the road, not several miles apart.”
She also explained why she had not called for a clinician in the call handler’s office: “I didn’t realise [her breathing] was as bad as it was, I couldn’t hear her breathing because of noise levels in the room – it was quite noisy as we were very busy that night.”
Paramedics arrived on the scene at 7.59pm. Ellie was pronounced dead at 9.13pm.
Wing commander Anthony Kelly told the inquest that there had been two previous incidents, one in May 2006 and the other December 2012, when emergency services had diffi-culty reaching the Brampton base due to the postcode.
He said: “My understanding is that the matters were reported by the RAF to the ambulance service following those incidents.”
He added: “I understood that the East of England Ambulance Service had added a flag on to the system.”
The inquest continues.