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Tuesday 23 January 2018

Woman in ambulance died after heart-support machine flashed 'battery empty' and shut down

Anne Scattergood's sons Paul, Damien and Francis outside Dublin City Coroner’s Court yesterday
Anne Scattergood's sons Paul, Damien and Francis outside Dublin City Coroner’s Court yesterday

Fergus Black and Georgina O'Halloran

IT was supposed to have been a short and straightforward journey, as a critically ill woman was transferred by ambulance from one hospital to another.

Anne Scattergood (77) had been due to undergo an assessment in Dublin's Mater Hospital on her suitability for heart surgery.

But just minutes into her journey from Beaumont Hospital, the screen of the portable heart pump machine being used to support her blood pressure flashed "battery empty" and shut down.

She was given CPR but was pronounced dead at the Mater Hospital in Dublin 45 minutes after her arrival on July 21, 2009.

At her inquest in Dublin City Coroner's Court yesterday, it emerged that only three specialist ambulances were capable of offering an alternative supply source to power such heart pumps.


Dublin city coroner Dr Brian Farrell said he did not know what the outcome would have been if the pump had not failed, but its failure was an issue in the deterioration in the woman's condition.

He said he would contact the national ambulance authority about the issue of external power supplies in ambulances.

The Health Service Executive declined to comment on the issue and said it would wait until the coroner contacted the ambulance authority.

Ms Scattergood, of Seagrange Road, Baldoyle, Dublin, was being transferred by ambulance from Beaumont Hospital to the Mater when the intra-aortic balloon-pump machine being used to augment her blood pressure during the journey stopped working.

Ms Scattergood, whose three sons, Paul, Damien and Francis, attended her inquest, had been critically ill and had suffered a serious heart attack more than 24 hours earlier.

The inquest was told the battery life of the device was two-and-a-half hours and the battery was only six months old at the time of the incident.

Forensic engineer and scientist Joseph O'Neill, who examined the pump, said he was satisfied the battery failure caused the machine to stop functioning, although the reason why the battery failed had not been determined.

He told the inquest that the battery monitoring alarm system in the pump did not give the operator any chance to do anything because the device "ceased" within seconds of the alarm going off.

Mr O'Neill suggested it would be desirable to have some alternative power supply available while the pump was in use and pointed out that only three specialised ambulances were available to power the pump during the transport of a patient.

Gerry O'Brien, whose company Marquet provided the balloon pump machines, said they agreed completely that battery failure caused the pump shutdown.

"In our operating manual we recommend that a secondary power source is always available and that separate batteries are available," he said.

In his verdict, Dr Farrell said that while the cause of death was acute haemopericardium (an accumulation of blood in the sac surrounding the heart), the failure of the pump was a factor in her death.

Irish Independent

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