Day-trip drama raises ferry safety doubts

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The Independent Online
A YOUNG man on a cross-Channel ferry nearly bled to death because of the shortage of medical equipment carried on the ship.

The incident raises questions about the facilities available on board cross-Channel ferries and the training given to crews to ensure that they are able to cope with emergencies.

Christopher Wright, 18, was on the seven-hour return leg of a day trip from Southampton to Cherbourg on Stena Sealink's Bahamas-registered ship Stena Normandy on Saturday eight days ago, with 1,400 people on board, when he started coughing blood.

Fortunately Julie Hall, a casualty officer from Guildford, Surrey, and three paramedic friends responded to a call for a doctor. Dr Hall found Christopher vomiting considerable quantities of blood. 'He had had his tonsils removed a week previously and he was bleeding from the scar.'

Dr Hall says: ''In these cases you can get very rapid bleeding and you don't know how much blood is lost because the patient swallows a lot of it.'

As Christopher was losing so much blood, Dr Hall asked the crew for a saline drip and a plastic tube that would keep his airway clear but she was told there were none. She said: 'I asked repeatedly for these things but I was told there were just a few plasters and bandages in the medical bay. I also asked for a stretcher and was told there wasn't one.'

As the vessel neared its destination, Dr Hall was worried that Christopher would die: 'I had to keep him from fainting as we would have lost him.'

Alerted by one of her paramedic friends, Neil Cook, an ambulance was waiting at Southampton to take Christopher to hospital for immediate surgery. He needed six pints of blood to be transfused, which means he lost all but a couple. He said: 'I thought I was going to die, and if Dr Hall hadn't been there I would have done.'

Mr Cook confirms that they were not told about the existence of any equipment: 'We asked repeatedly for these items, but were told there was only bandages and plasters.'

Dr Hall was furious about the lack of equipment: 'Saline solution is particularly vital to replace lost blood fluid. Without it, you cannot stop people bleeding to death. It was lucky he was 18 and not 40 or that we weren't just a bit further from the shore when he started bleeding.'

A spokesman for Stena Sealink said that the plastic airway, rubber gloves and a stretcher were carried on board: 'They are in the medical chest in the ship's sick bay, and there were three crew members who have the ship's captain medical certificate in attendance. I can't understand why the doctor was not informed.'

The 36-page Merchant Shipping Regulations specify the need for the gloves and airway but do not require saline drips. British Airways and many other airlines do carry saline solution.

Mr Cook said: 'A box of a dozen solutions with all the rest of the equipment would cost barely pounds 25 and it can be kept for a long time as it does not go off for years. It seems incredible given that you can so easily have people losing large quantities of blood in accidents on ships.'