When a 73-year-old Londoner collapsed at a betting shop on New Year’s Eve afternoon, his luck had run out – thanks to European Union rules that required two nearby ambulance crews to be kept on their 30-minute breaks.
A paramedic arrived by rapid-response car in a matter of minutes to the shopping center where the unnamed senior was stricken and began caring for the man. Witnesses say he made desperate calls on his cell phone in an attempt to have an ambulance dispatched.
The London Ambulance Service, which has launched an investigation of the incident, confirmed that two crews were on a mandated break at a station five minutes away from the shopping center, but they could not be disturbed, the London Daily Mail reported.
Under rules mandated by the European Working Time Directive, adopted in December, ambulance crews working shifts between six and 10 hours long are allocated a rest break of 30 minutes and cannot be sent out on 999 calls – the UK equivalent to 911 emergencies in the U.S.
LAS dispatched an ambulance from a neighboring community, but it did not arrive for over 20 minutes after the original emergency phone call.
“We dispatched a rapid-response car, which arrived at the shopping center within eight minutes at 1:30 pm, the member of staff being able to start treatment immediately,” a spokesman for LAS said. “An ambulance was sent at 1:32 pm after it became available from attending another incident and, according to our records, arrived at the shopping center at 1:41 pm and at the patient a few minutes later.
“The man stopped breathing shortly afterwards and efforts were made to resuscitate him both at the scene and on the way to North Middlesex Hospital, where he arrived at approximately 2:10 pm.”
“It is disgusting,” said eyewitness Sheldon Trevatt of Edmonton. “The man worked all his life paying his national insurance. If that ambulance had been there earlier I think his life would have been saved.”
In another London ambulance mishap last year, a crew transporting a mental health patient 10 miles between two hospitals, drove 200 miles, using the vehicle’s faulty satellite navigation system, before realizing their error. The patient was unharmed.