Dad found dead in car 5 hours after calling 999 with ‘heart attack’

A father who called 999 saying he thought he was having a heart attack died as paramedics took five hours to reach him – despite him being located only 15 minutes away from a hospital, an inquest heard. Martin Coleman, 54, was driving home when he started experiencing chest pains and heart palpitations. After he pulled over into a Lidl supermarket car park in Taverham, Norfolk, he made the call to 999 at 19.15pm on June 30 last year, telling the handler: “I think I am having a heart attack”.

The emergency services phone operators told him to get himself in a comfortable position as he waited for paramedics to arrive.

He was also told to keep his phone line free, so the handyman from Reepham didn’t call any family member or friend.

Mr Coleman climbed into the backseat of his van to lie down. He received a call back from a handler at 11.15pm, but he didn’t pick up.

Upon their arrival at 3.30am, paramedics found him dead in his van. 

In an inquest into the man’s death heard this week, his daughter Roxanne told Norfolk Coroner Yvonne Blake: “My dad was a strong, proud man who would only call for an ambulance if he really needed it.

“I loved him more than life itself. I greatly admired his desire to help anybody. He was so much more than a father and a grandfather. He is not going to be a statistic, he is a human being who is missed and loved more than anything.”

Mr Coleman’s call had been picked up by a handler in Newcastle as part of an arrangement between trusts to deal with requests at busy times. 

It was correctly prioritised as a category two call, the inquest heard, which should normally be responded to in no more than 40 minutes – with a target of 18 minutes. 

No free ambulances nor community first responders were available at the time Mr Coleman made his call to the emergency service, Chris Hewitson, patient safety manager at the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), told the court.

The man’s daughter questioned why Mr Coleman’s call was not escalated when he did not answer the attempted callback.

She also asked whether people contacting the service could be asked to provide an alternative contact number when making an emergency call while they are on their own.

While this was not something currently being done, Mr Hewitson said it could be considered. 

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David Allen, head of operations at EEAST, noted the service continues to face pressures, despite efforts to make improvements.

He said: “Sometimes we can have up to 30 ambulances waiting outside the Norfolk and Norwich hospital at any one time.

“There are over 400 patients across the three Norfolk hospitals who are medically fit to leave but cannot be discharged.”

The trust, he added, was trying to treat more people in the community and had been able to reduce the number needing hospital admission by 22 percent.

Ms Blake, the area coroner for Norfolk, concluded that Mr Coleman had died of a heart attack. She could not give a precise time of his death.

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