The recent case of Taaffe v East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (2012) is worth noting. E died after suffering a heart attack, an ambulance had been called to her home just five days earlier after she experienced severe chest pains. T sought damages from the defendant ambulance Trust alleging that the paramedics had been negligent in failing to advise E to attend the hospital. The paramedics had instead concluded that E was experiencing a panic attack.

After examining the evidence the court concluded:  

  • The paramedics failed in their duty to take a proper history from E so that they could make an assessment based upon the whole picture. She had a history of hypertension and a family history of cardiac arrest.
  • The paramedics’ assessment of E was not as thoughtful or careful as it should have been and was against guidelines for paramedics and expert evidence 
  • The paramedics handled the results of an ECG printout incorrectly due to either inadequate training or a failure to properly follow adequate training. One of the print outs had recorded “abnormal ECG” but was ignored 
  • The paramedics had insufficient training or knowledge of the potential consequences of high blood pressure
  • The paramedics’ care fell below the standard expected of the reasonably competent paramedic and was accordingly negligent.

None of the parties disputed that had E been advised to attend hospital then upon examination her true condition would have been established and her death avoided.

Controversially, T married his former mistress, with whom he had previously fathered a child, less than a year after E’s death. The judge therefore made a 40 per cent discount for the risk that there would have been a divorce or an ending of the relationship thereby terminating any dependency. No award was made under the heads of damage for “spouse’s love and affection”. T was awarded a total of £119,048.13.

This case highlights the need for Trusts to ensure that staff receive appropriate training and that measures are put in place to ensure their continued competency. The damages awarded in this case, while significant, could have been much higher had it not been for the impact of T’s affair and re-marriage.