Sunday, 20 January 2013

Madeley, Widdecombe and the paramedics

In his column in last week's Express, Richard Madeley wrote about the case of Thomas Passant:

'Lunch is for wimps' - Gordon Gekko in the seminal movie Wall Street, released in 1987.

Twenty-five years on, Gekko would make short work of the West Midlands Ambulance Service.

Incredibly, paramedics refused to interrupt their lunch break despite an emergency call for an ambulance to attend.

He went on:

So what did a paramedic team in Shropshire decide was a lesser priority than feeding their faces?

You’ll never guess. No, really, you won’t. Indeed when I read about it this week I thought it was some kind of joke, albeit in poor taste.

But the grotesque truth is this.

West Midlands Ambulance Service’s finest continued to munch their lunch after a six-week-old baby boy suffered a heart attack. His family dialled 999 but had to wait 41 minutes for an ambulance to come, because a crew were on their break and couldn’t be interrupted.

The College of Paramedics issued a statement in response:

"It's simply not true that this crew sat 'feeding their faces' knowing that a patient, in this case a baby, was suffering a life-threatening heart condition," said Andy Proctor, Paramedic spokesperson for College of Paramedics members in the West Midlands.

"It's absolutely outrageous to suggest that this or, indeed, any paramedic or ambulance crew would knowingly sit eating a meal whilst a child's life is at threat. We believe that this article has totally misreported the facts in this case."

"What he [Madeley] also didn't mention is that a paramedic was already at the patient's side within minutes, providing life-saving treatment.

Quotes from other people in the statement criticised the paper for:

inaccurate and poorly-researched journalism

And said:

it is extremely disappointing to read such an article which plainly has not reported all the facts clearly.

The College of Paramedics called for an 'unequivocal public apology' and a donation to the Ambulance Services Benevolent Fund.

A follow up statement from them explained what happened next:

A storm broke on Twitter, with Richard Madeley being harangued to the point where, on Monday evening, he acknowledged on Twitter that the story was "widely misreported" and that he was writing a follow-up piece. However, he did not apologise and has not now been seen on Twitter for three days.

Meanwhile – despite a torrent of comments under the online version of the article – the Express issued no correction or apology.

On the afternoon of Tuesday (January 15th), the College of Paramedics, which represents the professional interests of paramedics, issued its press release setting out the facts of the story and putting the paramedics' side. This release almost immediately 'went viral', receiving 12,000+ unique views in a matter of hours and becoming widely quoted on Twitter and even more quoted and 'Like'd by many thousands of Facebook users.

On Wednesday, the Express responded by not only closing the comments section under the online Richard and Judy page but removing all comments completely. Yet still the original story stood. And the storm on Facebook continued, unabated.

Then at lunchtime on Wednesday, the family of baby Thomas joined the Facebook debate in defence of paramedics. Matthew Passant, Thomas' father, posted: "I'm the childs father who the article was about and let me tell you me and my partner have nothing but gratitude to the paramedics who attended to my son Thomas and the paramedics know this as we have spoken to them and their bosses personally." He also wrote "your paramedics, along with the doctors and nurses and everyone else on the way is the reason why our son is still alive and recovering every day."

And Thomas' aunt, Kate Passant, posted: "We as a family were shocked to read this article and just want to say thankyou to the paramedics who attended. The paramedics that attended him did an amazing job and helped save his life."

The response from the Express? Repentance? A correction? An apology?

Not a bit of it. Instead, the Express removed the Richard and Judy piece altogether on Thursday (today), as if it had never existed.

But the day before removing Madeley's article, they published a comment piece by Ann Widdecombe which repeated the charges (and which remains live on their website):

A baby of eight weeks is facing possible disability for life as a result of an ambulance crew finishing its break before going on a 999 call...

when it comes to putting sandwiches before a dying baby and then defending such action as reasonable, Britain has sunk to a new depth.

The College noted it was 'strangely similar' to the Madeley piece and added:

This ignored the truth that, in fact, baby Thomas was receiving paramedic treatment within minutes of the 999 call being made, and the fact that no ambulance crew refused to interrupt its break: that simply did not happen. 

Yesterday, Madeley returned to the subject and back-tracked on what he wrote last week:

It seemed like an open and shut case. It took 41 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the West Midlands home where a baby had suffered a heart attack. Why? Because the crew were on an “undisturbed” meal break and couldn’t be called out until they’d finished. The rules are rigorous. Undisturbed means undisturbed. This is the policy set by the ambulance service.

The original story provoked a flurry of negative headlines and comment. I wrote about it here last week, expressing incredulity that such a state of affairs was possible and criticising the crew involved.

Seven days on, I am 100 per cent certain that I got this part of the story wrong. No mealy-mouthed apology, this. Yes, the crew had requested a break but they had no knowledge of the 999 call until they clocked back on. In the circumstances my criticism was unjust.

He goes on to repeat some of the stories he has heard over the last week from paramedics. But he still doesn't mention a paramedic was on the scene within minutes of the call.

And 'no mealy-mouthed apology, this'? He admits his criticism was 'unjust' and some of what he said was 'wrong' but he hasn't actually said 'sorry' at all.


  1. Do they still not have these down in London?
    The fact that neither Madeley or Widdecombe seems to mention that one of these was already on the scene suggests that either they are stuck thinking of an immediate ambulance response in terms of waiting for a big cumbersome van to arrive, or they're simply exaggerating the horror of the story for (extremely unprofessional) dramatic effect.

  2. Can you please correct this - Madeley is a columnist for the Daily Express, not the Sunday? Innacurate and poorly-researched journalism etc etc.


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