SCMP Friday, June 16, 2000

Death sparks ambulance probe

STELLA LEE and JENNY CHUNG


An investigation was launched yesterday following the death of a heart attack victim after the ambulance sent for him went to the wrong address.

The family of Chan Woon-cheung, 66, claimed they waited an hour for an ambulance to arrive after dialling 999 at 2.30am yesterday. They said they made three follow-up calls as his condition worsened.

But the Fire Services Department said it received a call at 3.01am and that it took 20 minutes for the ambulancemen setting out from its Ngau Tau Kok depot to reach the patient.

"My husband should not have died," said Chan's wife, Tam Kwai-ha, 54. "I'm sure somebody has done something wrong and I want them to compensate us for his death."

The department admitted the ambulancemen had gone to the wrong address and took 10 minutes to find the correct one in Ting Fu Street, Kwun Tong.

The department, which has a performance pledge of a 12-minute response time for ambulances, has set up an investigation team.

A report will be completed in two weeks for submission to the Security Bureau.

Ms Tam said her daughter had called 999 after her husband, who has a history of heart problems, had difficulty breathing.

When no ambulance arrived, she and her daughter made follow-up calls every 15 minutes until 3.15am.

On their first follow-up call they double-checked the address with the 999 communication centre.

Eventually a neighbour found the ambulancemen outside in an adjacent street and led them to the correct address, Ms Tam said.

Daughter Chan Man-yee, 28, said that when they arrived at United Christian Hospital, the doctor told her that her father had arrived too late to be saved.

"He said that, had he arrived earlier, there could have been a chance of saving him," she said. "He told us then that we had to be prepared for my father to die."

She added: "I don't understand why [the ambulancemen] didn't call us back if they couldn't find our place. We had given them our telephone numbers."

A police spokesman said the first 999 call was logged at 3am and was transferred to the fire services communication centre immediately. A fire services spokesman said an ambulance was dispatched but went to the wrong address, arriving 10 minutes after the initial call. It took a further 10 minutes to reach the correct address.

Chan arrived at United Christian Hospital at 3.36am and was pronounced dead at 6.30am. His daughter said that while the doctor stressed the cause of death had to be investigated, he believed it was lung problems brought on by sudden heart failure.

Members of Legco's security panel, which has reviewed ambulance services, voiced concern over the case, saying they would request a report from officials.

Dr Lai Kang-yiu, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association, said: "Heart attack patients need to receive treatment as soon as possible."

But he said it would be difficult to conclude if Chan died because of delayed treatment without knowing the details and his medical history.