Saturday, 10 December 2011

Shannon Powell Inquest - Lessons that must be learned

Perhaps the most awful story in the local press this week has been the inquest into the death of Shannon Powell, a talented 14 year old swimmer and athlete. My daughter swims for Barnet Copthall, the club Shannon belonged to. Earlier this year, we had the tragic event of the club championships awards ceremony, where Shannons little sister had to collect her club championship. It was probably the most heartbreaking thing I've ever experienced. Shannon was the 14 year old girls champion. My daughter was the 15 year old champion and wheras the awards ceremony is usually a highlight of the year for the swimmers and a chance for them to let their hair down, this year it was a rather sombre and muted event.

How ironic really that the club championships start the day after the inquest. Perhaps the most awful aspect of the whole thing is the coroners verdict that Shannons death might have been avoided, had she been taken to an A&E department immediately. I cannot possibly grasp how awful that news must be for Shannons parents. What is even worse is that it seems to be down to poor organisation of the event. Access for ambulances was locked, no one knew where the key was. Whilst a fit, strong teenager having a siezure is perhaps rather unpredictable, anyone organising a large event must cater for the possibility of someone needing an ambulance. Runners may slip and break a leg and so surely a modicum of planning should be made for such an occurrance.

It also seems that there were issues with getting Shannon to the ambulance when it did arrive, with paramedics refusing to carry her for health and safety reasons, over muddy and slippery terrain. Again, the same issue would have occurred. Clearly paramedics must consider their own safety, but I think that if you are not prepared to carry a very sick girl to an ambulance, in my opinion, you are in the wrong job. One of the most vivid memories of my youth, was my father (who was a WWII bomber pilot) telling about how a plane crashed on the runway, with a full bomb load, and the bravery of the station staff who got the crew out shortly before the plane went bang. In todays world, the brave crew of that plane would have been sacrificed at the alter of health and safety.

I think the emergency services need to take a long, hard look at what they do and re-appraise how they approach such things. If it had been my daughter (which it wasn't only thanks to a genetic lottery), I would most certainly have the utmost difficulty dealing with it all. I sincerely hope that because the coroners placed the blame at the door of the event organisers, that the London Ambulance Service don't think they've come out of this with any credit.

All I can do is pray for Shannon and her family. Her parents had a truly exceptional daughter, who was a star that shone brightly, if all too briefly. I've always believed that we should be judged on what we leave behind. In her short life Shannon achieied more than many achieve who live a normal lifespan. The legacy she leaves must be one where young people can attend such marvellous events in safety and if there is a problem, they can get treatment immediately. The tragedy of her passing cannot be something which is simply ignored and forgotten.

The summing up by the coroner is described here -

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