The London Ambulance Crisis: Father grieves for asthmatic son who died in his arms: A family cannot forget their long wait for an ambulance. Ian MacKinnon reports

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The Independent Online
NEARLY five months after their teenage son died in their arms, the family of Martin Thomas have long given up waiting for any official statement of sympathy or even recognition of the tragic events surrounding his death.

They still grieve for the football-mad 14-year-old who was full of life. Bitterness still creeps into the voice of his father, Anthony, as he tells of the evening of 26 October last year.

It was Martin's misfortune to suffer a severe asthma attack on the day that London's Ambulance Service descended into chaos. Mr Thomas, 39, dialled the emergency services from his home in Keston, near Bromley, on the south-eastern fringes of the capital. Three times within 45 minutes that evening Mr Thomas and then a neighbour dialled 999. Each time they were held in a queuing system for up to six minutes.

But as Mr Thomas, who is disabled after a road accident, cradled his son in his arms, he died. A neighbour, who was also an ambulance paramedic, tried to resuscitate the boy.

Eventually the neighbour had to guide the ambulance, based seven miles away in Croydon, south London, to the house by telephone because the crew had lost their way.

'Nobody should have to go through what we had to endure,' he said afterwards.

At the inquest on 10 December, the Croydon coroner was given evidence of the events that led to the delay. The emergency call had got lost in the computer and was not given out until 15 minutes after it was logged. The ambulance was forced to stop continually because its A to Z was outdated, and ultimately got lost.

The coroner said he would have demanded an inquiry into the role of the ambulance service in the distressing episode but for the evidence of the pathologist, who said that Martin had had an extremely severe attack and the late arrival of the ambulance made no difference. A verdict of death by natural causes was recorded.

But Mr Thomas, who has three other sons and a young daughter, said: 'That was the verdict in all the cases where the ambulance service's efficiency was called into question. The fact is that we will never, never know if it would have made any difference. The outcome of the court doesn't console us.'

However, he was quick to absolve the ambulance crew which finally took his son to Bromley hospital. 'The ambulancemen were brilliant,' he said. 'As soon as they turned up they did everything they could.'

Mr Thomas added: 'We are still very angry because when Virginia Bottomley (Secretary of State for Health) got all the reports, she never sent us a letter saying 'sorry' or anything. Nor did the ambulance service.'

(Photograph omitted)