Family haunted by tape of calls for ambulance

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Nasima Begum's family yesterday demanded a pledge from the Government that a similar tragedy would never happen.

"Whatever changes they make it is too late for Nasima, no amount of money spent on the ambulances or changes to the control room will bring her back,'' Nasima's eldest sister, Reba Begum, said.

"If they really do improve the service then that is a good thing, but the only thing we want to hear is that no other person will be allowed to die waiting for an ambulance. That is one guarantee which no one has been able to give us and the only thing which would ease the pain.''

Nasima had been ill with nephritic syndrome for six years, a condition which meant she lost vital protein from her kidneys. The illness is not normally dangerous, but she suffered a rare complication, pulmonary oedema. This condition, unless rapidly treated, is fatal.

Her agonised screams as she lay dying on the living room floor still haunt the quiet Muslim family from Whitechapel, east London. They have listened over and over to the London Ambulance Service control-room tape which captured their desperate calls for help and their daughter's increasing pain and distress, but still struggle to make sense of it all.

And they have watched in bewilderment as their bereavement was made into a cause cel`ebre by politicians and the media, their home at times surrounded by press and photographers.

The harrowing contents of the tape caused public outrage. On it Nasima's brother Muhibur Begum can be heard making the first of five 999 calls. Each time the family were forced to spell out their address and repeat the 11-year-old's symptoms.

Muhibur cries out: "Hurry please hurry, she's sick, she's sick. Where are you?''

Twice the control-room operator tells him: "Stop all those people wailing and crying.'' The noise was in fact Nasima's screams.

Reba said: "I do not suppose any of us will ever get over that. The way the person in control was speaking . . . it seemed so unkind in a way.''

When the ambulance arrived it was 53 minutes late - Nasima died three hours later in hospital from renal failure. "You try to continue your life, but every so often it catches you. Nasima was so bright and cheerful, she coped so well with being ill. She loved children and wanted to be a doctor.

"We think, why her, she hadn't had a chance to see the world, she was too young to die. Now if I see someone on the news whose child has died I feel very sad for them, I feel so much sympathy because I know exactly what they are going through," her sister said.

Reba and her husband are expecting their first baby in April. "The baby being born is a very hopeful thing for us,'' added Reba. "But it also tinged with sadness. Nasima always used to beg me to have a baby when I was first married.

"I found out I was pregnant in August and we lost Nasima in June. I wish she could have known she was going to be an auntie."