A PAISLEY pensioner died needlessly because ambulance staff failed to secure her wheelchair properly while taking her to hospital for an appointment.
Bosses at the Scottish Ambulance Service were slammed yesterday after it was revealed that a “gross failure” in safety precautions led to the death of 78-year-old May Jean Morris.
The OAP was being taken to hospital from her home in Ravenscraig Avenue, Paisley, for kidney dialysis treatment when the ambulance she was travelling in crashed into a Transit van and a car.
The force of the impact threw Mrs Morris from her wheelchair and she suffered a broken neck, as well as fractures to her ribs, arm and legs.
Tragically, she died in hospital three days later.
Yesterday, the Scottish Ambulance Service was fined £55,000 at Paisley Sheriff Court after admitting failings under the Health & Safety at Work Act.
The court was told Mrs Morris would not have died if the appropriate system had been used to transport her in the ambulance.
Mrs Morris had regularly been taken to Gartnavel Hospital, in Glasgow, for kidney dialysis and, each time, her life had been placed at risk.
Despite concerns being raised by one of the Scottish Ambulance Service’s own advisors some 16 MONTHS earlier, ambulances were still routinely transporting people in wheelchairs without vital safety straps to protect them.
And that practice had disastrous consequences on December 10, 2008, when the ambulance being used to transport Mrs Morris collided with a van and a car in Renfrew Road, Paisley.
Depute fiscal Anthony Bonnar told the court that a subsequent Health & Safety at Work investigation had concluded the Scottish Ambulance Service failed to provide the necessary equipment to have her anchored safely in her wheelchair during the course of the journey.
The nylon lap strap which was part of her own wheelchair was the only restraint being used to hold her safely in place.
The court was told this happened despite concerns being raised in an earlier risk assessment which revealed that any wheelchair patient being carried in the rear of an ambulance without being properly secured would be at high risk in the event of the vehicle having to brake suddenly or being involved in an accident.
In an internal memo issued by advisor Graham Forman to head of service Pat O’Meara, it was stated: “On a number of occasions, I have observed unsafe practice – sometimes because crews professed to being unfamiliar with the clamping systems but, for the most part, because the vehicles are lacking appropriate fittings, yet still being sent to jobs.”
Mr Forman urged that two key measures should be implemented – that wheelchairs should always be safely secured to the floor of the ambulance and that patients seated in them must also be safely secured to the vehicle.
Mr Bonnar said that, by the time the accident took place, the Scottish Ambulance Service accepted it ought to have known of the potential dangers but essential safety equipment which would have prevented the death of Mrs Morris was not provided to the crew, who simply acted as they always had done on previous journeys.
He added: “Mrs Morris had not been secured properly within the vehicle. There was a failure to deploy a clamp system designed to safeguard the person in the wheelchair.
“It appears that, although the detailed requirements of securing a wheelchair and patient before a journey were described at considerable length and considered to be essential, this vehicle was routinely deployed to carry wheelchair users without the proper means of securing them safely.
“Mrs Morris would not have died had the appropriate clamping system been used. She would most likely have been uninjured.”
After the accident took place, steps were taken in a bid to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.
Peter Gray, defence counsel for the Scottish Ambulance Service, explained that effective preventative measures had only been possible following extensive studies which were made difficult because different vehicles made up the fleet and many different styles of wheelchair had come on to the market, each requiring different solutions.
He said it was “a matter of the greatest regret” that the organisation had failed to provide the level of service to which Mrs Morris was entitled.
Mr Gray urged Sheriff David Pender to consider that the Scottish Ambulance Service is a publicly-funded body when deciding what fine to issue, saying that any financial penalty could have an impact on the function it was set up to perform.
Sheriff Pender said that, balancing all of the circumstances surrounding the tragedy and taking guidelines on financial penalties into consideration, the fine would have been £80,000 but this was to be reduced to £55,000 as an early admission of guilt had been made.