The family of a man who died after waiting nine hours for treatment has issued a legal challenge against the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service over a “chronic shortage” of ambulances in Northern Ireland.
KRW Law has sent a judicial review pre-action letter to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).
Lee Gannon died on February 15, 2022, at the Royal Victoria Hospital after complaining of breathing difficulties the day before.
A letter issued by KRW Law on behalf of Mr Gannon’s mother, says the family who live in Belfast first rang an ambulance at 6.45pm on February 14.
None arrived so they rang again 00.30am on February 15.
A third call was made at 2am, a fourth at 3.26am and a fifth and final call at 3.40am when Mr Gannon stopped breathing.
An ambulance crew was said to have eventually arrived at 3.42am, almost nine hours after the first call.
The matter being challenged by the family is the “systemic breach” of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which protects the right to life.
In the letter from solicitor Colin McMenamin, it says this is due to the “chronic and ongoing shortage of ambulances in Northern Ireland”.
It adds: “The lack of available ambulances to respond to calls made requesting an ambulance is systemic/structural and leads to patients not receiving treatment despite their life being at risk if they do not receive treatment.”
A Coroner’s certificate dated February 17, 2022, records the pathologist’s preliminary findings following the post-mortem examination are Lobar Pneumonia.
Mr Gannon’s family have asked the pathologist for the full report and have been told it is not yet available.
KRW’s legal letter states that, pending further information, it is “plainly arguable that the delay in the arrival of the ambulance contributed to Mr Gannon’s death” and “the lack of ambulances therefore operated to Mr Gannon’s detriment”.
The letter makes clear the applicant is not suggesting failure on the part of any individual to act but rather a systemic lack of ambulances available.
Recent media reports are cited linked to extended arrival times for ambulances and the Gannon family have requested statistics from NIAS.
Quotes from senior figures within NIAS are further proof that delays are a “systemic issue”, according to the applicant.
Mr Gannon’s family asked NIAS to acknowledge there is an ongoing breach of Article 2 of the ECHR due to a lack of available ambulances.
And whether it is possible for NIAS to remedy the situation or to provide a plan for how the ongoing breach can be averted, including advising patients when to attend hospital themselves rather than waiting on an ambulance.
A series of questions were also put to NIAS which included the number of ambulances on duty in the Greater Belfast area and province when Mr Gannon was experiencing breathing difficulties.
The Department of Health and other health and social care trusts were noted in the legal document as interested parties.
In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, NIAS said: “The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service will always engage with judicial, or other relevant processes relating to service delivery.”