Family of Hartlepool dad who died after two-hour wait for ambulance launch legal battle against 999 chiefs

William Gouldburn
William Gouldburn

A HEARTBROKEN family have launched a legal battle against 999 chiefs after a much-loved dad died following a two-hour wait for an ambulance after a fall at home.

William Gouldburn, 73, died at his Hartlepool home after a fall despite seven 999 calls from his family for an ambulance.

As revealed in the Mail earlier this week, an inquest into Mr Gouldburn’s death heard that the former teacher’s life could have been saved had an ambulance reached him quicker.

Today, Mr Gouldburn’s family have revealed they have started legal proceedings against the North East Ambulance Trust and want some answers on what they have described as “systematic failings”.

Mr Gouldburn’s son-in-law Colin Dobson, 48, said: “Questions need to be answered.

“We are not disputing what was said in the inquest and we respect the findings of the coroner. But that does not draw a line under other issues.

“We launched legal proceedings prior to the inquest as we received documents back from the trust which we quickly realised needed legal support.

“I can’t go into too much detail, other than to say they are extremely complex.

“I would also stress this is not being done for any monetary gain. We are not trying to sue the ambulance trust for the sake of it.

“We want to find out exactly what happened before we can bring this matter to a close.”

Hartlepool coroner Malcolm Donnelly described the tragedy as “a sad consequence of a lack of resources” after hearing how Mr Gouldburn collapsed in his bathroom at around 10.20am on April 21 last year.

After frantic calls from his wife Pam and a carer, an ambulance did not arrive at the house in Meadows Walk, Hartlepool, until after noon.

Mr Dobson claims he has identified issues throughout the whole 999 process.

He added: “The people in the control room who handle the calls are not clinically or medically trained. They follow a script on a computer, and it is decided from there which pathway they will go down depending on the nature of the call.

“In our case, we were taken down the wrong pathway.

“It then came out in the inquest that there was a backlog of ambulances at North Durham hospital lined up dropping patients off, but that took time so there was a delay.

“During that time other calls come in, but the ambulances are held up while they are looking for beds.

“It is also worth noting this was on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t a Friday or Saturday night when people expect hospitals and ambulances to be stretched.

“We cannot pinpoint any one cause in this situation, but there is a knock-on effect of systematic failings and I think the whole system needs looking at.”

Referring to the attention the story has been given in the national media following its appearance in the Mail, Mr Dobson added: “We are pleased this has caused interest and that people are looking at it.

“People should be aware of the shortages, they have an expectation of the service they should receive.

“The ambulance trust needs to learn from this and it must never be allowed to happen again.”

After a two-day inquest at Hartlepool Coroner’s Court, Mr Donnelly ruled that Mr Gouldburn died of natural causes as he had an underlying heart disease.

But Mr Donnelly said his death was aggravated by a “lack of timely and appropriate medical intervention”.

He said: “Had there been more ambulances available the outcome might have been different.”

A spokeswoman for the North East Ambulance Trust declined to comment on the start of legal proceedings.