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Stafford pensioner waited hours for help after call centre worker assumed a false alarm

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: May 19, 2014

By Newsletter reporter

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AN ELDERLY Stafford mother lay on her bathroom floor for more than six hours because a call centre worker assumed she had rang her alarm by mistake, an inquest heard.

Joan Barratt, 87, died in Stafford Hospital two weeks after the fall at her home in Tixall Mews, Tixall, Cannock Coroner’s Court heard on Thursday.

She suffered mobility problems and was a customer of Stafford and Rural Homes’ telecare service, which offers round the clock assistance for elderly and vulnerable tenants.

But when she pressed her pendant alarm after tripping on the shower in her bathroom, shortly after 3am on January 27, the call centre worker who answered her could not hear her clearly and thought she said she “was OK”, Cannock Coroner’s Court was told on Thursday.

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The worker called back on Mrs Barratt’s landline, but did not get a response.

Mrs Barratt was found on the bathroom floor by a carer at 9.15am that morning, the inquest heard. She had suffered significant blood loss from a cut to her head which required hospital treatment.

But during her hospital stay she developed bronchial pneumonia, and died on February 10.

Dr Michael Harrison, Stafford Hospital’s director of emergency medicine, said that Mrs Barratt was not suffering from a chest infection on admission.

“My major concern was the delay in her attending hospital, although the delay itself did not cause her death,” he told the inquest. “The delay in treatment would have had an unquantifiable, negative impact on her treatment and wellbeing.

“She was confused as to why she had to remain so long on the floor.”

SARH’s director of neighbourhood services, Deborah Emmett, told the inquest the worker who took Mrs Barratt’s call “thought she had rolled on the pendant in her sleep”.

“She believes the judgment she made at the time was correct,” Ms Emmett added. “In this case the operator made a human error.

“This matter has been dealt with through an internal investigation process.”

Mrs Barratt’s daughters asked Ms Emmett why they had not been contacted after the operator failed to get a response on their mother’s landline.

“When we signed up for this we understood the procedure was that if she did not answer the phone we would be contacted,” they said.

“You had a list of various numbers to call, until one of us answered.”

Ms Emmett confirmed to the inquest that it was policy for an operator to contact a customer’s next of kin or the emergency services if there was no response on the landline.

She added: “We have an external accreditation which requires a rigorous inspection annually, where the inspector listens in to calls. We have regular appraisals.

“We operated a 10 per cent checking of calls process and we have increased the percentage of calls listened in to.”

South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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