East Midlands Ambulance Service admits error which led to the delay in helping Harry Dunn

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The East Midlands Ambulance Service has admitted they made an error which led to delays in helping Harry Dunn.

Day three of the inquest into the death of 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn took place on Wednesday (June 12) at The Guildhall in Northampton town centre.

Harry, from Brackley, died after his motorcycle was in collision with a car driven by American Anne Sacoolas near a US military intelligence base at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on August 27 2019.

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Sacoolas was given an eight-month suspended jail sentence at the Old Bailey on December 8 2022, which ended the family’s brave three-year battle for justice for their dead son.

Harry DunnHarry Dunn
Harry Dunn

On the third day, the inquest uncovered serious errors and staffing shortages within the East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) that may have impacted the emergency response on the night Harry died.

Briony Ballard, counsel to the inquest, said: “The nub of it is, not all of the Northamptonshire resources were all available for Northamptonshire." The EMAS spokeswoman confirmed this, simply responding: "No."

On the night of the accident, EMAS faced significant staffing challenges, the inquest heard.

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An error occurred during the emergency response to Harry's accident. Ballard said: “She [the call handler] comes back on to Harry’s call, what she sees on the CAD [computer], is that she receives an entry made at 8:33pm saying, ‘passenger in car is out and safe with no injuries, just shaken up’. She does not see the entry which is 13 seconds later, which says, ‘patient can’t move his legs’, that’s in relation to Harry’s serious injuries, she doesn’t see that. She incorrectly advises therefore that the South Central Ambulance Service resource that, ‘we don’t need you, we can stand you down, the passengers are out of the car and they’re okay’.

"She has accepted that standing down that paramedic was an error because based on the fact of Harry’s injuries and how serious they were. She also hadn’t seen the entry at 8:36pm stating that the second critical care paramedic is being dispatched and they’re carrying blood supplies.”

The EMAS spokeswoman acknowledged the mistake, stating: "That’s correct." The EMAS spokeswoman expressed surprise at the error, noting that the call handler had been with EMAS for 34 years and was typically very reliable. The error persisted until 8:41pm when the dispatch officer finally recognised the severity of Harry’s injuries.

It was only at 8:41 pm the error were understood, taking the total error time up to eight minutes, before the correct procedures were implemented.

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EMAS has proposed several steps to prevent such errors in the future, which are:

  • Engagement with the Family: "Liaise with the family, which is something that we did, to offer an apology," said the EMAS spokeswoman.
  • Internal Review: "The report is then given to every member of staff that is involved in that incident from start to finish. They get a chance to read it, comment, share and learn from it."
  • Improving Communications: "To improve the communications between the other ambulance trusts."
  • NHS Pathways System: "The introduction of the NHS Pathways system. It’s a more detailed triage into a patient’s condition resulting in fewer ambulances going out."

Despite these measures, challenges still remain. The EMAS spokeswoman said: "There are a lot of delays, it’s not going to go away but I believe EMAS has done an awful lot to be able to counteract those delays with the addition of resources and all the pathways that are now available to us. We still experience delays, and it’s a bit up and down, but there’s been a lot of work between the hospital and ourselves."

Representing the Dunn family, Paddy Gibbs KC expressed the family's appreciation for EMAS's transparency and cooperation. He said: "May I express the family’s great gratitude to EMAS for the exemplary, candid, and honest way they have engaged with the family throughout."

The inquest continues.

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