More should have been done - Coroner

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A coroner has said there ‘should have been more done to help’ a Derry man who died when ambulance workers couldn’t gain access to his home.

Coroner, Mr. Joe McCrisken, made the comment during an inquest into the death of 49-years-old Martin Doherty who died in March, last year.

Mr Doherty died from Lobar Pneumonia with a fatty liver due to prolonged heavy drinking cited as a contributory factor. He had no alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

The Coroners Court heard that Mr. Doherty collapsed outside an off-licence in Sackville Street and it was believed he was intoxicated.

The First Housing Night Support Service was called and found Mr Doherty to be confused and unable to support himself or walk.

The Coroners Court heard the support worker helped take Mr Doherty to his flat at Great James Street. A maintenance worker, who was working at a house nearby, also helped.

They were unable to carry Mr Doherty to his top floor flat but made him comfortable in the hallway.

An amublance was called at 9:28 pm by the support worker. He told an ambulance control operator that Mr. Doherty appeared intoxicated and they replied ‘so he’s just drunk’.

The night support worker also reported that Mr Doherty was drifting in and out of consciousness and was foaming slightly at the mouth.

The support worker and the maintenance man had to leave Mr Doherty, but he was comfortable and still breathing when they left.

The court heard evidence that the ambulance did not arrive until 10:34 pm, over an hour later. It was an ambulance which was based in Castlederg as those in Derry were busy on the night.

The coroners court heard evidence from paramedics who said they knocked at the door, knocked on windows and rang bells but no one responded.

One of them said he believed he looked in the letterbox but it would have been too dark to see Mr Doherty.

The paramedics then phoned ambulance control for further instruction and an ambulance control said that if there was no response ‘just leave,’ followed by a laugh.

One of the paramedics told the court ‘we did everything we could’.

Mr. Doherty’s father said in court that the decision to let the paramedics go without taking any further action such as phoning the police was ‘not very good practise and not professional.’

However, he added he was not blaming the paramedics as they were just doing as they had been advised by ambulance control.

Professor Jack Crane, Acting State Pathologist, performed the autopsy on Mr Doherty and found that he died of natural causes, namely Lobar Pneumonia with a fatty liver as a contributory factor.

He said that Lobar Pneumonia would cause Sepsis which results in a high temperature, confusion, shaking, difficulty breathing, weakness and loss of appetite. He said that these symptoms could be mistaken for alcohol intoxication.

Delivering his findings, Coroner McGriskin said: “The purpose of an inquest is not to attribute blame or responsibility, but more could have and should have been done to help this man. I can’t say if he had received treatment it would have produced a different outcome but, at the very least, he should have been conveyed to a hospital to receive that treatment.”

He said had it not been assumed Mr. Doherty was ‘just a drunk’ more could have been done.