Ambulance staff believed dying elderly patient was 'snoring'

Peggy Copeman died on the side of the road of the M11 while being transported back to Norwich from D

On day three of Mrs Copeman's inquest, the court heard from the private ambulance service transporting Mrs Copeman. - Credit: Archant

Private ambulance staff thought a Norfolk grandmother was snoring in the hours leading up to her death in an M11 layby.

On the third day of an inquest into the death of Peggy Copeman, the court heard from staff at Premier Rescue Ambulance Service, the service responsible for transporting the 81-year-old back to Norfolk. 

Staff told the court they had been told Mrs Copeman was asleep and said her eyes were not open.

Rory McKenna, the driver of the Ford Transit, said he was shocked to be transporting someone of Mrs Copeman's age as patients were usually younger or more spritely.

Mr McKenna said he had not had any training in his role at PRAS, nor was he aware what was in the first aid kit in the Ford Transit.

His colleague Trudy Nanyunja said she checked the kit before the journey.

Mr McKenna, who had been a driver for three months and left the job after the incident, said he was not expecting Mrs Copeman to be slumped over in the wheelchair.

The driver, who said he could complete up to three jobs a day, said: "I was shocked at how old she was. I have not transported anyone of that age before. The patients we deal with are young and more spritely."

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The driver told the court Cygnet staff and his colleagues had to "practically lift her in" to her seat, which was between his two colleagues.

The driver stopped at Membury services after two hours for a 20-minute break and said he asked Mrs Copeman if she would like a coffee but she responded by groaning.

In a statement, Mr McKenna said he asked his colleagues about a noise "so loud I thought there was something caught under the car. They laughed and told me it was Peggy snoring" but this did not raise alarm until his colleague said mucus was coming out of Mrs Copeman's nose.

The court heard as Mr McKenna pulled onto the hard shoulder, staff cleaned her nose as she took in a strained breath before no further breath came.

Mr McKenna said he checked for breath and called 999 before being told to move Mrs Copeman to the floor and begin CPR with his colleague until paramedics arrive.

Gemma Daley asked Mr McKenna whether he felt he had adequate training to perform the role on December 16.

He said "maybe not" and added that he had no idea there was a mouth-to-mouth pocket kit in the onboard first aid kit.

The court heard ambulance operators received a call at 2.27pm asking for assistance. 

Mr McKenna said: "I'm so sorry this whole thing ever happened."

His colleague Trudy Nanyunja said she was told Mrs Copeman was "acting up" and both members of PRAS staff said they were warned Mrs Copeman may become verbally and physically aggressive.

On day two of Mrs Copeman's inquest, staff treating her at Cygnet Hospital in Taunton, were asked about Mrs Copeman's physical health, concerns about her fluid intake and how she seemed on the day of transportation. 

Health care assistant Emily Sanderson took a call from staff at Premier Ambulance shortly before 2.30pm on December 16 and said she "talked through" CPR with staff after she was told "Peggy is not breathing".

Mr McKenna said he believed he called CPR before his colleagues called PRAS or Cygnet but was not privy to those conversations.

Further evidence will be heard this afternoon. 

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