Dying boy, 8, was denied ambulance because he 'wasn't poorly enough'
By Jaya Narain
Last updated at 7:21 AM on 23rd April 2010
A dying schoolboy was refused an ambulance by 999 operators who said he was not ill enough.
Louis Austin, eight, was passed on to an out-of-hours doctor who wrongly diagnosed swine flu over the phone and prescribed Tamiflu.
He died two days later after kidney failure caused by undiagnosed diabetes. Yesterday an inquest heard that he would have had at least a 95 per cent chance of surviving if he had been taken to hospital immediately.
As Louis Austin lay dying, he was refused an ambulance by 999 operators who said he was not poorly enough
Coroner Joanne Kearsley returned a verdict of death by natural causes contributed to by neglect.
She said the North West Ambulance Service was culpable and that ‘assumptions and judgments’ had been made during phone calls with the family.
Louis’s mother Melanie said after the verdict: ‘It’s been horrible hearing the way they just passed things over and they diagnosed swine flu even though he didn’t have all the symptoms.
'I was ready to take Louis to the walk-in health centre myself but the ambulance service stopped me doing so. I had the door keys in my hand and if I had taken him he would be alive today.’
The Stockport inquest heard that Louis, a pupil at St Alphonsus RC Primary School, had been off school for days, complaining of blinding headaches and chronic fatigue.
He had also lost a considerable amount of weight in the weeks before his death last July.
On the morning of Saturday July 11 his condition deteriorated and his family became very worried.
Mrs Austin, 44, of Old Trafford, Manchester, said: ‘He looked really, really ill.
‘His eyes looked like they’d sunk in to his head and when he took his top off you could see his ribs. He looked like he had come out of Belsen.
‘He was really hot and bothered, and had a really bad headache.’
Family friend Owen Thompson was so concerned when he saw Louis that he immediately dialled 999 and pleaded for an ambulance.
But call handler Andrew Wright decided Louis was not a priority and the call was transferred to the urgent care desk.
The inquest heard that ambulance service bosses admit paramedics should have been sent immediately.
Debra Iveson, working at the urgent care desk, phoned Mr Thompson back before referring the case to an out-of-hours call centre where GP Tracey Leigh diagnosed swine flu.
The coroner said Dr Leigh had had been wrong but her actions could not be considered ‘gross failure.’
Dr Leigh told the hearing: ‘It was the wrong judgement, I know that now and I’m absolutely devastated. No doctor wants this to happen to them. I have an eightyearold daughter myself.’
The cause of Louis’s death was diabetic ketoacidosis, which can strike in 24 hours due to lack of insulin and has symptoms including vomiting, dehydration, rasping breath and coma.
A spokesman for the ambulance service said changes had been made to ensure such mistakes never happened again.