Dead MP's son damns ministers over 999 failure

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The son of Derek Fatchett, the Labour minister who died of a heart attack last year, is claiming that senior members of the Government have shown a complete lack of interest in finding out whether the death could have been avoided had an ambulance arrived more quickly.

The son of Derek Fatchett, the Labour minister who died of a heart attack last year, is claiming that senior members of the Government have shown a complete lack of interest in finding out whether the death could have been avoided had an ambulance arrived more quickly.

Brendan Fatchett has been striving for more than 12 months to find out why an ambulance took almost half an hour to reach the Wakefield pub where his father collapsed on 9 May 1999. But he had been repeatedly "fobbed off" both by the ambulance service and by MPs and ministers, he said.

Brendan, a journalist for Yorkshire Television, said: "Lots of people who would have called my dad their friend have not been very helpful.

"I have been very disappointed by the reaction of a lot of people who I know my father would have helped had the situation been different. There are certainly people in very senior positions in the Government who have given us no support whatsoever."

Derek's death came as a shock to his colleagues at Westminster. He was a well-respected, able minister at the Foreign Office and, despite the stress of the job (the day before his death he had been forced to admit to a Ministry of Defence briefing that Nato was responsible for bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade) he was fit and well. He was 53.

The Fatchett family was devastated by his death. But, after a stunned few months, they began to ask questions about the night he died. Brendan demanded to see the ambulance service report of the call-out to the pub where his father died, which, he said, was only five minutes walk from the closest accident and emergency unit.

It was "riddled with mistakes," he said. The report claimed ambulances had been diverted from the area to Bradford to cope with celebrating football fans leaving the match which secured the team promotion to the Premiership. But that game was played in Wolverhampton.

"At that point, I was deeply unhappy," Brendan said. He took the matter to the chief executive of the ambulance service, who admitted mistakes had been made.

The family also learned that Frank Dobson, the secretary of state for health at the time of Derek's death, had been made aware of the problem but "he had done nothing about it", Brendan said.

Still dissatisfied with the answers he was getting, Brendan went to see the current Secretary of State, Alan Milburn, earlier this year. He complained in person about the delay to the ambulance, the problems with the complaints procedure and warned Mr Milburn: "There is nothing to say this wouldn't happen again and again."

Brendan said: "He was very hands up about the mistakes made and said he would deal with it but he did nothing. Nice words though they were I might as well not have seen him."

"We knew as soon as the immediate aftermath had passed we would not have contact with people my dad had known in politics. But it is disappointing that a Labour government should be so slap happy. I was shocked by the level of arrogance.

"I felt trivialised after I had been in the meeting with [Mr Milburn]."

Brendan insisted he has not embarked on a "witch hunt" but is determined to keep pressing for proper answers so that the mistakes surrounding his father's care will not be repeated in future.

"You have to have faith in the ambulance service which is a crucially important part of the health service," he said. "It's not as in your face as cancer care or something like that but I would like to feel if it happened to me now the ambulance service is adequately funded. It is the difference between life and death. It doesn't matter what is at the hospital if it takes that long to get there.

"It might not have saved my dad anyway. I have to believe that because it's easier for me. Had the ambulance got there more quickly, it probably wouldn't have saved his life but it might save someone else's."

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