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Woman too large for ambulance dies; UK medics cleared of wrongdoing

Emergency response was delayed because a bigger stretcher and ambulance were needed to transport the obese woman

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BRISTOL, England — An obese woman died after she became ill at home and paramedics couldn’t carry her to the ambulance.

Bridgette Witcombe’s family claims paramedics could have done more to help the woman while waiting for a bigger stretcher.

South Western Ambulance Service said, however, its staff acted “with care and skill”, the Bristol Post reported.

An inquest was carried out Monday, finding that paramedics had to search for a bigger stretcher and an ambulance to accommodate it because Witcombe could not fit a regular stretcher.

The mother-of-three called an ambulance February 19 after vomiting repeatedly for the previous 24 hours.

The medics assessed a fever, hyperglycemia, tachycardia and abdomen pain. They determined she might have an infection and wanted to transport her to the hospital for treatment.

Because of the woman’s size they called for another ambulance with a bariatric stretcher that could accommodate her. The search for the stretcher and the appropriate vehicle delayed the response and the second ambulance departed after 20 minutes.

Once at the scene, the medics asked Witcombe to walk down the stairs from her bedroom, because the extended stretcher wouldn’t fit. The family helped her down the stairs while paramedics waited outside. The woman started breathing heavily once she was at the bottom of the stairs and started choking soon after.

The medical crew performed CPR as they transported the woman to the hospital but she died at the hospital.

The family said the medical crew should have helped the woman walk downstairs instead of waiting outside.

A letter from a neighbor, submitted as part of the inquest, read, “We saw Bridgette slowly coming down the stairs with the support of her family members.

“The paramedics did not seem to offer any assistance and the four paramedics stood outside talking amongst themselves. We watched as Bridgette struggled to exit the house unassisted by the paramedics.”

Assistant coroner Dr. Peter Harrowing said medics were not to blame as they did their best to save Witcombe’s life.

Pathologist Edward Sheffield said Witcombe had a much larger-than-normal heart, and died as a result of stomach infection and morbid obesity. Her airway was obstructed and she could hardly breathe.