A talented nurse who tragically died after a fall on a night out left his two-year-old son behind.
The family of ‘Gentle giant’ John Harmon, 34, who worked at Aintree Hospital, has been left heartbroken after his death.
An inquest into his death heard he died on August 18, 2019, after collapsing in Anfield.
A coroner found an opportunity was “missed” for John to have “life-saving care” from paramedics as a catalogue of errors contributed to his death, reports the Liverpool Echo.
His father, who is also a nurse, slammed the ambulance service over its handling of the crucial minutes before John’s condition took a turn for the worse.
A court heard how after a 999 call was made to help John, the incident wasn’t logged in the correct category and an ambulance travelling to care for him did not have its blue lights on.
Tragically, there were ambulances closer to the area where he collapsed – but they were not sent.
Senior Coroner Anita Bhardwaj said: “Soon after the collapse a 999 emergency services call was made, there was a missed opportunity to provide lifesaving assistance to John when the call was not correctly categorised as a category one and as a result the cause of death has been contributed to by neglect.”
The North West Ambulance service have apologised to John’s family and said ‘lessons have been learnt’.
John’s father Patrick Harmon said: “I’m hoping that it will be legally known that John was neglected. Hopefully this will never happen to another person. It’s just not good enough in many respects, I feel like it needs to be known.
“John didn’t just die in vain on a street in a corner.
“He was a nurse for 11 years, and a very successful nurse. He was looking at going forward in his life and going up the ladder.”
An inquest, held earlier this month, heard how John had been socialising with friends and had a few drinks in Liverpool city centre on the night he died.
As he and a friend were leaving G Bar, John suffered an ‘unexplained collapse’.
Ms Bhardwaj said: “He immediately wanted water and the way he collapsed did not appear to be because of him being drunk.”
A pathologist also said alcohol did not contribute to John’s collapse.
Ms Bhardwaj added John appeared to recover ‘quite quickly’ and he and his friend then made their way into a taxi to go home.
While on his way home, the taxi pulled over so John could get some money out of a cash machine. He was able to walk to the cash point and back to the taxi in good condition.
But when the taxi arrived at the friend’s home, to drop her off, John appeared to be “profusely sweating and had appeared to have wet himself”.
John said he then didn’t feel well and wanted to go home, so the taxi started travelling towards his home to get him back safely.
Dashcam footage from the taxi showed John behaving in a normal manner.
As the taxi arrived to John’s address a “loud bang was heard” as he got out of the vehicle.
Ms Bhardwaj said: “John was found collapsed on the floor. Within seconds, John became unconscious.”
The emergency services were contacted and conversation proceeded to take place between the North West Ambulance call handler, the taxi driver and John’s friend.
While on the phone, John could be heard snoring, before he then vomited and stopped breathing.
CPR was commenced at the scene by John’s friend, who was also a medical professional, and John then vomited again.
As the paramedics arrived, attempts were made to clear John’s airway and he was taken to the Royal Liverpool Hospital, where he sadly died.
Ms Bhardwaj said: “The post mortem examination found John died of aspiration of gastric contents, but there were no pathological findings to explain why he collapsed in the first instance or a cause for the aspiration. During this incident, there were a number of errors identified.”
She said although the call handler dealt with the call in a professional and calm manner, the call was very complex for a variety of reasons, including there being two people at the scene relaying information.
But the call handler was trained to recognise if the patient wasn’t breathing correctly and if any trigger words were used, such as “snoring”.
Ms Bhardwaj said the first error was made when the caller did not escalate the call to ‘category 1 emergency’ when she could hear John snoring.
The second error came when the call handler did not recognise John was displaying agonal breathing, the medical term used to describe grasping from struggling to breathe.
The third error was that the 999 call remained ‘uncategorised’ when paramedics were allocated to the incident.
The fourth error came when the ambulance on its way to the incident didn’t travel with blue lights or urgency, and no efforts were made to find out what the details of the incident were.
John’s dad said: “It was nine minutes before she [the call handler] realised John was in trouble and dying.
“It took them over 15 minutes to get to John and they stopped at two red lights. They actually stopped at two sets of lights on the way to an unconscious patient.
“He should have had CPR straight away because his breathing was poor, but that was advised nine minutes into the call.”
Ms Bhardwaj concluded by saying: “This is a gross failure. Though it is impossible to know whether John would have had a different outcome if the call had been correctly categorised, what is clear is that as the cause of death is aspiration of gastric contents, the paramedics would have arrived at or around the time when John first vomited and so would have enabled them a better opportunity to clear John’s airways and therefore giving him a greater chance of survival.
“This was a missed opportunity to give John meaningful life saving care and treatment. And this failure has more than minimally, negligibly and trivially contributed to John’s death as it is directly linked to the cause of death.”
Paying tribute to his son, Mr Harmon said: “He was in his prime, he was looking at specialising and he had everything going for him.
“He’d just got passed for a mortgage, but it’s all gone now. We’ll never see him as a dad, we’ll never see him old.
“I’ve got to die without him being by my side, that’s how sad I feel – the grief is horrible
“He had a two-year-old son who’s now been left fatherless because of their actions.”
Director of Operations for North West Ambulance Service, Ged Blezard said: “Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of Mr Harmon and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.
“We accept the Coroner’s findings and conclusions.
“There was a delay in upgrading the emergency call which means there was a delay in getting an ambulance to Mr Harmon and we are deeply sorry that the care provided to Mr Harmon was below the standards we would expect.
“The trust strives to provide the very best care to all of our patients but on this occasion, that was sadly not the case.
“Lessons have been learnt for the organisation as a result of a full internal review into this matter and changes have been made in our emergency operations centre to avoid this happening again in the future.”