In the heart of the smartest, most respectable part of the capital, Jesus Sagarberria, 67, a retired boxer and former hotel porter, collapsed with a heart attack one morning last week just yards from a private hospital near his home. Passers-by went to the hospital for help but staff refused to come, saying it was against the law for them to leave the premises.
For fifteen minutes Sagarberria lay in the street until his good Samaritans flagged down a private ambulance, whose driver radioed for emergency services that took him to another hospital, where he died.
The tragedy shocked Madrid's medical establishment, which is opening an inquiry. But Our Lady of Rosario clinic, in the Salamanca district, offered various cool-headed explanations for its action.
Of 22 doctors on duty at the time, it said, all were busy: one was dealing with another heart attack; the others were in operating theatres. The two passers-by were, according to hospital staff, "incoherent and confused". Described in yesterday's newspapers as a mature well-dressed woman and an elderly man, the two were told they had to bring the patient into the clinic before he could receive attention. Later that afternoon, staff said in mitigation, a doctor did come out into the street to treat a young man who had had a motorcycle accident.
No one, from the clinic or the hospital where Sagarberria died, told his only relatives, who lived in the northern region of Guipuzcoa: they found out only when a friend telephoned after reading of the tragedy in the press.
The spokesman for the organisation monitoring ethical conduct in the medical profession insisted that in an emergency the principle of tending the sick took precedence over any legal prohibition about leaving the premises; the health ministry concurred.Reuse content