Toddler death: Inquiry into 999 call

The audio recording of a frantic 999 call will play a key role in establishing why an available ambulance was not sent to help a critically injured toddler who had fallen from an upstairs window.

As the devastated parents of Vakaris Martinaitis prepare for his funeral in Cork today, it has emerged that two private ambulances were in Cork at the time of the accident last Monday and could have been on the scene — a Midleton housing estate — within 20 minutes.

A HSE-commissioned formal inquiry in to how the emergency call was managed is now under way.

A recording of the call, placed by former GAA star Kevin Hennessey who rushed to help Vakaris and his father, Vidas, at their home in the Castleredmond Estate at around 2pm last Monday, will be examined to determine whether the operator who took the call was told that the boy had fallen from a height.

It will try to establish why, as Mr Hennessy has claimed, he was told that there was no ambulance available to transfer the boy to hospital, when as the HSE revealed later, an ambulance was “immediately available to respond to the call”.

And it will also examine ambulance locations and availability at the time, as well as dispatch operator protocols when handling such 999-calls.

Mr Hennessy said when he was told there was no ambulance available, he was told to drive the injured boy and his father to Cork University Hospital where Vakaris lost his fight for life last Wednesday.

But David Hall, who owns the private ambulance firm, Lifeline Ambulance, said he had two vehicles in Cork at the time which could have been at the scene within 20 minutes. His firm’s vehicles were engaged under contract to the HSE in routine transfers.

“There are a number of questions at various levels,” he said. “Why was the ambulance they (the HSE) had, not responded to?

“And in the event that they thought they didn’t have an ambulance available, why was the other appropriate company not telephoned as they are contracted?

“There is a contract in place that allows the HSE to do it — but they have chosen for the last four years — in this and multiple other incidents involving lives — not to do so.”

The review team charged with investigating the incident will include experts in pre-hospital emergency care and primary care from both Ireland and the UK.

The terms of reference are being finalised and will be agreed with the review team.

A HSE spokesperson could not say how long the review will take, but said it will be done as quickly as possible.

A representative from the team will be asked to liaise with Vakaris’s parents, Lithuanian nationals, Vidas and Aukse, who have been living in Ireland for the past nine years.

The couple’s daughter, 8-year-old Agneta, is due to receive her First Holy Communion next weekend.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on health, said James Reilly, the health minister, needs to intervene.

Mr Ó Caoláin said: “In March, Minister Reilly claimed that ‘improved training and better deployment, more efficient rostering, will drive the improvement of response times in every region’.

“It is clear that response times in every region have not improved and that in areas like East Cork there are major gaps in services.”

Meanwhile, the remains of little Vakaris, who should have celebrated his second birthday on Saturday, will be removed from O’Farrell’s funeral home in Midleton at 1pm today to the Church of the Most Holy Rosary for a Mass of the Angels at 2pm, followed by cremation at The Island Crematorium in Ringaskiddy.

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