Decision to leave body on floor of ambulance station could have affected forensic evidence - report says

Ely Ambulance Station

Ely Ambulance Station - Credit: Archant

Delays in taking the body of a 32-year-old man to a hospital mortuary could have affected post-mortem results, a new report has found.

Pont's Hill, Littleport, where James Harrison's body was discovered.

Pont's Hill, Littleport, where James Harrison's body was discovered. - Credit: Archant

The body of James Harrison was left on the floor of Ely ambulance station by paramedics who were advised to do so by a colleague so they could avoid being late off shift.

According to a serious incident review, it was more than three hours before Mr Harrison’s body arrived at the mortuary, which may have hampered the post-mortem and efforts to gather forensic evidence.

An investigation into the incident carried out by the East of England Ambulance Service revealed “anecdotal evidence” that a similar incident had also occurred previously.

Mr Harrison, of Littleport, was found dead near Littleport Fire Station shortly after 5am back in September by a milkman, with police and ambulance crews quickly called.

Paramedics found “no evidence of obvious trauma” and police released the body so that it could be taken to the mortuary at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge.

But, to avoid finishing their shift late, it was suggested to the ambulance crew that they could instead leave the body at Ely’s ambulance station, where it would be picked up later by an undertaker, arranged by the police.

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The report said: “That crew were due to finish at 6am, but in an effort to prevent them

being too late off shift, the local paramedic suggested that they transport the deceased patient to the local ambulance station [Ely] in order to remove him from public gaze. “The police were asked to arrange for the undertaker to collect the patient from the station and convey to the hospital mortuary.

“The out of area rapid response vehicle and double staffed ambulance crew had not heard of this procedure, but were allegedly advised by the local paramedic in attendance that it was a known local procedure and had been done before.

“The senior police officer on scene was also in agreement with the suggestion.”

The body was then taken to the station where it was placed on “a clean white sheet” with another sheet placed over the top of the body bag.

According to the report, the paramedic “did not think he was doing anything inappropriate and felt he was being respectful”, while a police officer on scene “did not voice any concerns”.

When police informed the ambulance service that they would not be arranging for an undertaker to collect the body, the job was then handed to the morning shift ambulance crew at Ely ambulance station, who arrived at 8am.

According to report, the crew did not arrive at Addenbrooke’s until 9.30am, meaning the body had been kept in an “un-refrigerated environment” for more than three hours.

“which we understand from police may have caused issues with taking certain forensic examples”.

The paramedic involved in the incident was not suspended and was allowed to continue working with the service, but he was taken off duty as a paramedic and placed in a supervised role.

He was also advised to refer himself to the Health and Care Professions Council – the regulatory body for the industry.

The report noted that the ambulance trust should have contacted the family of Mr Harrison earlier, and said that a letter had been sent out to all ambulance staff reminding them of trust policy when dealing with dead bodies.

The report concluded: “It is evident that this decision was not malicious but was made in order to try and prevent colleagues from being excessively late off their shift.

“This action led to the lack of thoughtful handling of a deceased patient and the delay in allowing the deceased to be kept in an appropriate environment which it is believed caused issues with the post mortem.

“Despite the paramedic’s best intentions to help prevent the crew involved being too late off their shift, he demonstrated a clear lack of foresight and consideration

for current policy.

“Consideration should be given to the paramedic’s genuine intentions to support his colleagues whilst taking into account the seriousness of the situation.”