Updated: Thursday, 21st November 2019 @ 5:16pm

Do you have a dog? Bolton woman quizzed in 999 mix-up as heart attack husband’s life hung in the balance

Do you have a dog? Bolton woman quizzed in 999 mix-up as heart attack husband’s life hung in the balance

| By Lauren Brown

A Bolton woman who dialled 999 as her husband was suffering a near-fatal heart attack was told to call the NHS's non-emergency 111 service – where an operator asked her ‘do you have a dog?’.

Christine Gayther, 69, was left incredulous when the call handler began bombarding her with scripted questions about whether she owned a family pet as husband Terry, 75, lay on the floor fighting for his life at their home.

As she begged for an ambulance, the operator posed a string of questions about Mr Gayther's previous history including various questions which were apparently irrelevant to his current condition such as his ethnicity.

When the operator asked Mrs Gayther if she had a pet dog, she then hung up and rang 999 for a second time to demand emergency help.

An ambulance eventually arrived at the couple's home in Bromley Cross, near Bolton, Greater Manchester 45 minutes after she made her first call.

Mr Gayther a retired engineer was rushed to hospital in Bolton Royal Hospital where he was kept in for ten days with a ‘huge abdominal aortic aneurism’.

He was admitted to intensive care and had surgery to save his kidney and is now recovering back home.

Mrs Gayther a retired market stall worker said she had lodged a formal complaint with the North West Ambulance Service over the call.

She said: “Terry was virtually dying before my eyes yet I was being asked inane questions like whether I had a dog when all I wanted to know was that there was an ambulance on the way.

“I kept saying it was urgent but he was just reading this script but I couldn't even stop him. Terry was rolling about, it was hell and I was screaming for help. If the operator had just said 'there's an ambulance on the way but let me ask you these questions' that would be fine.

“He even said 'if this turns to an emergency call 999' when Terry was clearly in serious difficulties. It beggared belief. It was as if I had to convince him that we were worthy of an ambulance and it seemed like I was on to him for an eternity and  I was getting more and more irate thinking that I was being fobbed off.

“Firstly 999 were judging my authenticity and then 111 to see if we were worthy of an ambulance. My husband could have died whilst this prat at the end of the phone was asking idiotic questions.”

The incident began at 9.35am on July 28 while the couple were at home when Mr Gayther complained of being unwell before asking his wife to call for an ambulance.

She said: “There was panic in my voice, I have a mature voice, I'm not some kid who has broken a false nail which has fallen off. I know they get a lot of silly calls but he should have had enough nous at the end of the phone to realise it was a situation starting up and I needed help from the medics. After all, 999 are there to help.

“I rang 111 although I didn't think I would have to but Terry by then was getting worse by the second. He was foaming at the mouth and he fell off the bed. In the meantime the operator would not stop asking questions and was reading off a script.

“All I registered is 'have you got a dog'. In the back of my mind I was thinking that was the sort of question you'd ask someone with a pitt-bull terrier.

“If we did have a dog I would have put it out of the room but I thought surely they can tell I'm not some kid messing about. I slammed the phone down to ring 999 and he rang back immediately to say we had got cut off, I said 'we didn't I want an ambulance do you not understand'.

Paramedics arrived 45 minutes later and ‘did a brilliant job’ but Mrs Gayther believes more must be done to prevent such incidents happening, which may end with a more serious outcome.

“It seems that the really serious cases can be left with their lives draining away while the person requesting the ambulance is judged on the authenticity of their call,” she added.

“Unnecessary deaths will occur in future because of this.  Some of the operators aren't even medically minded and are not giving any thought to what they are just doing. It seems all common sense has gone out of the window.”

A spokesman for NWAS said: “It is very important that callers answer the series of questions our call takers ask as this can determine the category of the incident, and therefore what response is required.

“The questions can also help the trust inform the ambulance crew en route as to what they may encounter on arrival at the scene.

“The trust uses the same call handling system as the majority of ambulance services in the country and one of the questions does require the caller to let the trust know if there are any dogs in the property. If so, they are asked to remove them to a safe place.”

Story via Cavendish Press.

Image courtesy of Martin Cathrae, with thanks