Boy, 15, who died after asthma attack may have been saved with earlier medical attention

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A schoolboy who died after having an asthma attack could have ‘possibly’ survived if he had received medical attention sooner, an inquest heard.

Martin Sullivan, 15, woke his father Roy on the morning of November 24, 2019 to say he couldn’t breathe properly.

His dad called 999 and requested an ambulance at around 6.10am, an inquest was told.

The North West Ambulance Service call handler placed his request for an ambulance as Category 2 on the triage system and did not tell Mr Sullivan that the service was busy or suggest to him that he could take Martin to hospital himself.

Mr Sullivan then called 999 again at 6.30am after the teenager’s condition worsened, the Manchester Evening News reports.

During this call, he was told that the service was busy but again, there was no suggestion made to take him to hospital himself.

When an ambulance still hadn’t arrived 20 minutes later, Mr Sullivan decided to drive his son to the nearest A&E at Tameside General Hospital – which was just 10 minutes away from their home.

Tragically, Martin became unresponsive and died despite the best efforts of medics.

At Stockport Coroner’s Court on Wednesday coroner Andrew Bridgman recorded that Martin died of natural causes but said that his death could have ‘possibly’ been avoided if he had received medical attention sooner.

He said that the “opportunity for him to receive medical attention was denied” because the call handler did not suggest that Mr Sullivan take Martin to the hospital himself.

Instead, Mr Sullivan was “left with an agonising wait for an ambulance that was unlikely to attend”, the coroner said.

“I’m sure that if he had been told on calls that the service was busy and that he could take him to hospital himself, then he would have done”, Mr Bridgman added.

During the inquest, which began on Monday, Mr Sullivan said in a statement that he believed his son’s life might have been saved had an ambulance been sent to help sooner.

An ambulance arrived at the family home at around 7.10am that morning, around 54 minutes after the first call was made.

But Mr Sullivan said it was ‘clearly much too late to be of any help’.

Expert witness Dr Mark Levy told the inquest that there was a ‘possibility that Martin would have survived had he received medical attention at or around 6.30am’.

A member of staff from NWAS paid the family a visit after Martin’s death, and explained that a crew had been tied up at a job in
Stockport.

“I did not feel that the paramedic understood the gravity of what happened to our family after losing our beloved son,” Mr Sullivan added in his statement.

The family subsequently learned that their request for an ambulance had been logged as Category 2 during both calls.

At that time, there were 39 unallocated Category 2 calls across the service.

The inquest heard that Category 1 responses were reserved for immediate life-threatening emergencies.

“Had he been assigned a Category 1 response, I wonder whether Martin would still be alive,” said Mr Sullivan.

While the family agreed with the recommendations of a review carried out by NWAS into Martin’s death, they believe the report did not go far enough.

Coroner Andrew Bridgman asked NWAS bosses whether ambulances had been ‘stacked up’ at A&Es on the morning of Martin’s death.

Daniel Smith, interim head of service for Greater Manchester at NWAS, said: “There were some delays.

“The overall ambulance turn-around for hospitals [in Greater Manchester] was 35 minutes, which is five minutes over the desired
time.

“It was November and we were experiencing turn around delays at a number of hospital sites just because of the pressures on the hospital system at that time.”

Recording a conclusion of death by natural causes, coroner Andrew Bridgman said: “Martin’s death could possibly have been averted had he received medical attention”.

The coroner will now write a report to the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) in relation to the algorithms and scripts used on 999 calls.

He will not write a report to NWAS but recommends that the service maintains a strategy that has already been implemented.

Following the conclusion, Mr Sullivan said: “I am very happy with the results of the inquest and know that Martin will now rest a little easier.”

Martin, who was in year 11 at Great Academy Ashton, was described during the inquest as a clever, helpful youngster who had grown up in a tight-knit family.

His teachers said he was a ‘passionate, motivated and helpful’ pupil who had loved music and been active on the school council and local youth parliament.

Paying tribute, his sister Rebecca said in statement: “Our mum still washes clothes for him and cooks meals for him everyday hoping he will come home.

“Martin brought so much joy to our family. We will never be the same without him.”

Ged Blezard, Director of Operations at NWAS, said: “Our deepest sympathies remain with Martin Sullivan’s family in what remains an incredibly difficult time for them.

“We acknowledge the coroner’s findings and thank him for his handling of what is a very sensitive case.

“It was recognised that the two 999 calls we received from Mr Sullivan were coded correctly in line with national standards but we welcome and will fully comply with any changes to those standards that may occur as result of the coroner’s recommendations, in the hope that a further tragedy can be avoided.”

“In the last year we have increased the number of ambulances and frontline staff aimed at improving response times to all categories of incident.”