Teenager Dies of Asthma Attack After Delay in Sending Ambulance

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia, Pic is only for representation purpose only.

In a tragic incident that highlights the critical importance of timely emergency response, a teenager in New Zealand lost her life due to an asthma attack exacerbated by a delay in ambulance dispatch. The incident occurred in 2020 and has raised concerns about the handling of emergency calls and the need for improved protocols.

The Incident

The teenager’s mother made an emergency call to 111 when her daughter began experiencing an asthma attack. The call handler asked whether the daughter was breathing, to which the mother replied, “Yip, probably 25 percent maybe, yeah.” The call handler then selected ‘yes’ in the software that determines triage categorization. However, he failed to clarify what the mother meant by “25 percent.”

Subsequently, the call handler asked if the daughter had any difficulty speaking in between breaths. The mother turned to her daughter and asked, “Can you talk in between your breaths?” The daughter replied, “No, no.” Unfortunately, the call handler misinterpreted this response, believing that she could speak between breaths, and selected ‘no’ in the software. This incorrect classification affected the dispatch of an ambulance to their location.

Approximately 20 minutes later, realizing that the teenager’s condition had deteriorated further, the family made a second call to 111. This time, an ambulance was dispatched immediately. However, by the time paramedics arrived, the teenager was unresponsive and not breathing. Tragically, she passed away shortly afterward.

Breach of Code and Recommendations

Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Vanessa Caldwell investigated the incident and found that the call handler breached Right 4 of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights. Although the call handler asked the correct questions, he failed to correctly record and classify the answers regarding the teen’s breathing. Caldwell recommended that the call handler provide a written apology to the family.

Additionally, Caldwell suggested that the ambulance service review the question on difficulty speaking between breaths to eliminate the possibility of misinterpretation by callers. She also recommended using an anonymized version of the Health and Disability Commission report for training call handlers, with a particular focus on managing calls related to asthma attacks.

Lessons Learned

This heartbreaking incident underscores the need for rigorous training and clear communication protocols for emergency call handlers. Swift and accurate assessment of a patient’s condition can be a matter of life and death. As we mourn the loss of this young life, we must commit to improving our emergency response systems to prevent such tragedies in the future.

For more details, you can read the full article here.1

Remember, every second counts in an emergency, and we must strive to ensure that help reaches those in need promptly and efficiently.

Dr. Tulip Duncan

Dr. Tulip Duncan

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