Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Monday, 22 September 2008 16:58 UK

'Tea break' paramedic criticised

Scottish Ambulance Service
The ambulance service said staff cannot be disturbed during breaks

A paramedic has been criticised for not cutting short a break to help a woman who had suffered a heart attack.

Catherine Cowie, 50, died two days after collapsing in Fraserburgh.

An ambulance technician was on the scene within four minutes, but a paramedic did not attend with her because he was on a break.

Mrs Cowie's daughter has said she was "completely disgusted" with the response of the paramedic, and intends to make an official complaint.

Some cardiac drugs can only be administered by a paramedic. The Scottish Ambulance Service said staff could not be disturbed during breaks.

However, it said they could choose whether or not to attend calls during break periods.

Mother-of-three Mrs Cowie collapsed in her Fraserburgh home, which is about 300 yards from the ambulance station where the paramedic was based, on 17 September and died two days later in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

'Completely disgusted'

Her relatives intend to make a formal complaint about how she was treated.

Mrs Cowie's daughter Christine said: "At the end of the day, if they've got that uniform on... what would you do?

"Sit and have a cup of coffee or go and save someone's life?

"I'm completely disgusted."

A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: "An ambulance technician was on scene administering treatment to the patient within four minutes, followed very quickly by a further two technicians.

It is not good enough for a vehicle to get to an emergency quickly if it doesn't contain a paramedic
Cathy Jamieson
Labour's health spokeswoman

"Ambulance technicians are highly skilled in the delivery of emergency medical care and save lives every day. In this case they stabilised the patient and transported her to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary."

He explained: "Under the rules of the UK Government's Agenda for Change NHS pay modernisation programme, ambulance crews are entitled to a break during their shift and cannot be disturbed during that period.

"All ambulance services in the UK must comply with these rules, unless staff choose individually to be interrupted during their break."

The Scottish Government said it expected the Scottish Ambulance Service to learn lessons from the incident.

Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman, Cathy Jamieson, said: "I am calling on the Scottish Government to investigate the circumstances surrounding this tragedy to establish whether the presence of a trained paramedic could have saved Mrs Cowie's life.

"Ambulance crews are being asked to do their jobs under increasing pressure. Demand for ambulance services went up by 12% last year, but there was no corresponding increase in the budget.

"Ministers need to provide the resources to ensure that ambulances are properly crewed. It is not good enough for a vehicle to get to an emergency quickly if it doesn't contain a paramedic."


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