Belfast Telegraph

Paramedics 'could and should' have done more to help man who died after being left in hall

By Eamonn MacDermott

More "could and should" have been done to help a Londonderry man who died after support workers were unable to carry him to his flat, an inquest was told yesterday.

The remarks were made by coroner Joe McGrisken during the inquest into the death of 49-year-old Martin Doherty, from Great James Street, who passed away last March 23.

Mr Doherty, a former merchant seaman, died from lobar pneumonia, with a fatty liver caused by prolonged heavy drinking cited as a contributory factor - although he had no alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

The coroner's court heard that workers for a night support service provided by First Housing who work with homeless people and street drinkers were contacted about a man who had collapsed outside an off-licence on March 22 last year.

Mr Doherty was able to identify himself and give his address. He was helped to the hallway of his building in Great James Street, but could not be carried to his top-floor flat.

Instead, the victim, who was said to have been pale, drifting in and out of consciousness and "foaming slightly at the mouth" was made comfortable in the hall, with a pillow placed under his head.

The night support staff phoned for an ambulance at 9.28pm. The court was played a recording of the call, in which a support worker was heard saying that Mr Doherty "appeared extremely intoxicated".

A maintenance worker said he would "keep an eye" on the victim, who "appeared to go into a deep sleep from drink".

The man attempted to wake him, but was unsuccessful, so he went about his business, checking on him several times.

By around 10pm there was still no sign of an ambulance and the man went home after checking Mr Doherty was comfortable and still breathing.

He said that when he had left him, he had been "sound asleep and snoring".

A paramedic said that they arrived at 10.34pm. The ambulance that responded had to come from Castlederg because ambulances in Derry were busy.

The medic said that he and his colleague knocked on the door and rang a number of bells at the flats, but no one responded to then.

He said they also looked in windows and knocked on windows, but to no avail.

They called ambulance control, which told them they had tried to contact the support worker by phone a number of times, but there was no answer.

An ambulance control operator said if there was no response, they should "just leave".

Coroner McGriskin said that there should have been some sort of protocol in place and that police should have been called when the ambulance was sent to another incident.

The ambulance worker who was called the morning Mr Doherty's body was discovered by a person who lived in the flats said he was sent to the scene at 9.16am on March 23 and arrived two minutes later, finding Mr Doherty cold to the touch, not breathing and unresponsive.

Coroner McGriskin found that while Mr Doherty was in good health, he had in the past consumed excessive amounts of alcohol, resulting in a fatty liver.

He added he believed that Mr Doherty had been dead for between six and eight hours before his body was discovered.

The coroner placed the time of death in the early hours of March 23, sometime between 1am and 3am.

Coroner McGriskin said: "I can't say if he had received treatment it would have produced a different outcome but, at the very least, he should have been conveyed to a hospital to receive that treatment.

"Assumptions were made about this man's presentation and condition.

"It's different looking back when everything is clear, but had it not been assumed that, in the words of ambulance control, he was 'just a drunk', more could have been done."

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