Ambulance Service denies wrongdoing over death of pensioner who waited 10 hours for an ambulance

North Belfast pensioner Jimmy Cassidy, who died at his home while waiting 10 hours for an ambulance. Photo by Hugh Russell
Marie Louise McConville

The Ambulance Service has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the death of a pensioner who died alone in his north Belfast home while waiting 10 hours for an ambulance.

The organisation last night said the call regarding Jimmy Cassidy had been "handled appropriately in the circumstances" and "correctly categorised".

Friends of the 79-year-old, who at one time ran a shop on Dawson Street and a supermarket in Tigers Bay, said they were `sickened' by the findings of an internal investigation, which was launched by the NIAS in the aftermath of Mr Cassidy's death.

The widower, who has no family, was found collapsed on the floor of his home on the evening of Saturday, August 19 by a friend, Michael O'Reilly.

Mr O’Reilly, who owns the Salad Bowl shop on Donegall Street, regularly brought groceries to Mr Cassidy, who had become housebound in recent months after a fight with cancer and a fall.

He said that when he arrived at Mr Cassidy’s home on Brookvale Avenue he found the pensioner on the floor.

Brookvale Fold in north Belfast where pensioner, Jimmy Cassidy died alone while waiting 10 hours for an ambulance. Photo by Hugh Russell

He called for an ambulance shortly after 7pm and put a blanket over him to keep him warm.

When no ambulance had arrived by 9pm, Mr O’Reilly called again before helping his friend into bed.

The shopkeeper had to leave at 11.15pm but left the door open so ambulance personnel could let themselves in.

However, the next morning, police told Mr O’Reilly that Mr Cassidy had been found dead when the ambulance eventually arrived after 5am.

Speaking at the time, Mr O'Reilly branded the response from the Ambulance Service "disgraceful" and said he wanted answers as to why it took emergency personnel 10 hours to reach his friend, who died from a heart attack.

Following the conclusion of an NIAS internal investigation, the organisation last night cleared itself of any wrongdoing in relation to the case.

In a statement released to the Irish News, the emergency service said it had received a 999 call in relation to Mr Cassidy at 7.18pm on Saturday, August 19.

A NIAS spokesman said based on the information from the caller, it was deemed "as neither life threatening nor serious and as such was assigned Category C status".

"At the time of the call the patient was described as being conscious and breathing".

The investigation found that the call had been "handled appropriately in the circumstances and, based on information provided, was correctly categorised.

"The investigation also found that throughout the shift no earlier opportunities presented themselves to control staff to send a resource to this patient due to a large volume of higher category calls.

"NIAS sincerely regrets that due to the circumstances pertaining on that night shift in relation to the volume of calls and the level of cover available we were unable to provide an earlier response to this patient’s need for our service. For this we are truly sorry and offer our sincerest apologies".

Michael O'Reilly described the findings of the investigation as "sickening".

"It's unreal," he said.

"When you're old, you don't count".

SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon said the Ambulance Service had still not explained "why this happened and I still have a series of questions in with the NIAS, for several weeks, which remain unanswered.

"The Ambulance Service failed Mr Cassidy in the last hours of his life and they are failing him now," she said.

"Mr Cassidy's friends have asked me to keep fighting to get the truth and that's exactly what's going to happen."

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