Ambulance paramedics work under pressure but, if they make negligent mistakes, it is only right that those who suffer are fairly compensated. In a case on point, a pensioner who fell victim to the so-called 'flesh-eating bug' won the right to substantial damages.
The woman, in her 70s, suffered a minor injury to her right arm during an exercise class. By the evening of the following day, she was in excruciating pain and her daughter dialled 999. When an ambulance arrived, however, an experienced paramedic decided that it was not necessary to take her to hospital. She was advised to carry on taking painkillers and to contact her GP if her symptoms persisted.
By the early hours of the next morning, her condition had greatly worsened and, after an ambulance was again called, she was rushed to hospital. She was suffering from necrotising fasciitis and fell into septic shock before antibiotics were prescribed. It was by then too late to save her right arm, which had to be amputated.
After she brought a claim against the NHS ambulance service trust involved, the High Court noted the rarity of necrotising fasciitis. However, given the severity of the woman's pain and other symptoms, the paramedic had breached her duty of care in failing to appreciate that her condition was so serious that an immediate hospital admission was required.
The Court acknowledged that the woman would have been left with a disabled right arm in any event, but found that amputation would probably have been avoided had the first ambulance taken her swiftly to hospital. The amount of the woman's compensation will be assessed at a further hearing.