The National Ambulance Service has apologised to the family of a 17-year-old student who died after a delay in attending a medical emergency caused by his diabetes in 2010.
An inquiry set up after an anonymous complaint to the Health Service Executive found a number of serious failings and breaches of protocols in the response of the ambulance service.
Darren Gaughan, from Killure, Aclare, Co Sligo, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of ten, but continued to live a normal and active life as his condition was well managed.
In 2010, he was studying for a degree in renewable energy at Limerick IT.
He was staying with friends at the UL campus on 28 October that year and was due home the next day to celebrate his forthcoming 18th birthday.
He had been feeling unwell since the day before and, at around lunchtime, friends became concerned and phoned his father, Leo, who knew that he required medical attention because of his diabetic condition and advised that an ambulance be called immediately.
An ambulance was called at 1.25pm and emergency services were told Darren was a diabetic and needed urgent attention as he had become unresponsive.
Darren's father and uncle also began driving from Sligo to Limerick, but en route they received a call from St John's Hospital in Limerick to say Darren had died.
A post mortem showed he had died from acute cardio-respiratory failure secondary to hyperglycaemia and ketoacidosis shortly after paramedics had arrived.
Four years later, the Gaughan family were told that an anonymous complaint had been made to the HSE about a delayed emergency response in relation to Darren's death.
They were told that as a result of this complaint an investigation was being carried out by the National Ambulance Service.
The result of the investigation was released to them in 2016 and concluded there had been a number of serious failings and breaches of protocol in the response to Darren's emergency.
Solicitor Niall Tansey and Noel Gaughan, brother of 17 yr old Darren who died after a delay in ambulance reaching him speak outside court after apology from ambulance service Full story soon on ?@rtenews? pic.twitter.com/uZAKm1el1c— Vivienne Traynor (@viviennetraynor) March 23, 2021
Those failings included the fact that the ambulance did not arrive for 31 minutes when the expected journey time was half that.
When alerted, the ambulance crew had been collecting forms at a local garda station and completed this errand before leaving, causing an initial delay of three minutes.
A further ten-minute delay on the way to the university campus could not be explained.
There were also a number of failures of communication protocols, including that the dispatcher contacted the ambulance crew on their mobile phones instead of on the radio system, there was a failure to use the required terminology in relation to emergency calls and the dispatcher ended the call with the person who was closest
to Darren instead of keeping them on the line.
The Gaughan family sued the HSE and reached an out-of-court settlement for damages of €285,000.
The High Court today approved the statutory part of the settlement, which is required in cases of wrongful death. The figure of €25,000 was divided equally between his four siblings.
In a letter of apology, Chief Ambulance Officer Bill Forbes offered sincere apologies for the distress and upset caused by the death of Darren.
He said it was acknowledged with regret that the National Ambulance Service delayed in attending to Darren on 28 October 2010.
Mr Forbes said an investigation was undertaken and identified a number of areas where the service fell below the standards expected and apologised unreservedly for this.
He confirmed that the service took very seriously its commitment to learning from the experience and had undertaken reform of practices after Darren's tragic death.
Mr Forbes also offered his sincere condolences to the Gaughan family.
Speaking to the media outside court, solicitor Niall Tansey said the Gaughan family had been through "a harrowing ordeal".
"Their son Darren had just started college at Limerick IT and was just days away from his 18th birthday.
"Darren was in excellent health but he had diabetes and on this particular day he needed urgent medical assistance.
"Unfortunately the standard procedures within the ambulance service were not followed and sadly there was a tragic outcome for the Gaughan family.
"The family is appealing for all the recommendations in the investigation report to be followed in full so that no other family has to endure a similar tragedy."
Darren's brother Noel said they were just relieved that they had received an apology and the ordeal was over.
He said they hoped that no other family would have to suffer the way they had suffered.
"We love Darren and we miss him very much," he said.