‘Grey area’ in software meant ambulance was not sent to anorexic teenager before she took her own life
PUBLISHED: 17:42 10 January 2019 | UPDATED: 18:42 10 January 2019
An ambulance call handler failing to report an anorexic teenage girl was threatening suicide - and a “grey area” in a computer system - meant paramedics were not sent out a day before she took her own life.
Ellie Long, of Greenland Avenue, Wymondham, was found hanged at her home on December 10, 2017 and died at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital two days later.
An inquest in Norwich on Thursday heard how on December 9, the day before Ellie’s death, her mother Nicki Long called for an ambulance and said her daughter wanted to take her own life.
The call was given a category four rating - which is for less urgent calls - and due to a high demand for ambulances a policy was in place not to attend category four calls. In a statement call handler Leanne Evans said she “should have entered [Ellie] was threatening suicide, which would make it a category three.”
But instead had recorded Ellie was thinking about it, which did not prompt such an urgent response.
Christopher Hewetson, an emergency and centre support manager for the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST), said due to demand, even if the call was given a category three an ambulance would not have been at the house for around eight hours.
Call handlers follow a set of questions depending on the incident, with software then deciding what response, if any, is to be provided. Mr Hewetson spoke of a “grey area” in the distinction between threatening suicide and thinking about suicide which can influence the software’s decision. The call has since been audited and the handler given the chance to reflect and Mr Hewetson added: “The issue is being raised with software company in a couple of weeks time. That ambiguity there needs to be addressed.”
Mrs Long made another call to the ambulance service the next day, December 10, when her daughter was discovered hanged. A crew was dispatched but went to the wrong house. Despite the call handler hearing the correct house number, it was not entered into the system.
The inquest also heard from Gail Hunton, a counsellor at Wymondham High School, who said Ellie became “more sneaky” with her food and acted “out of character” leading up to her death.
The inquest continues.