STRASBOURG – A recording of an emergency service operator mocking a young mother, who died hours after her call was ignored, has sparked outrage in France.
Naomi Musenga, 22, called Strasbourg’s ambulance service with severe stomach pain and said: “I’m going to die”.
“You’ll definitely die one day, like everyone else,” the worker replied.
The woman eventually called another service and was taken to a hospital but died after a heart attack. The health minister has ordered an investigation.
In the three-minute audio, Musenga – in a very weak voice – appeals for help and struggles to describe her pain while speaking with the ambulance service (Samu).
The operator, apparently in an annoyed voice, replies: “If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll hang up!”
“I’m in a lot of pain,” the woman replies.
The worker then tells her to call a doctor, and gives her the number for a different service, SOS Médecins, which sends out doctors instead of an ambulance.
“Help me, I’m very ill,” the woman repeats. “I can’t help you, I don’t know what you’ve got,” answers the operator, giving the other number again, adding: “I can’t do it for you.”
The recording also has an exchange between the operator and another staff member making fun of Musenga.
The woman eventually managed to call SOS Médecins and, after a five-hour wait, was taken to a hospital by the ambulance service.
After suffering a stroke, she was transferred to the intensive care unit but died hours later of “multiple organ failure due to a hemorrhagic shock”, according to Le Monde newspaper (in French).
The case dates back to December but only came to light when a recording of the call, obtained by the victim’s family, was published by a local website.
Days after the transcript of the phone-call became known, Strasbourg University Hospitals has said it is provisionally suspending the operator who took the call.
The hospital said initial inquiries had led it to believe that the “treatment of the call had not conformed to good practice”. The local prosecutor has opened an investigation.
Reacting on Tuesday, health minister Agnès Buzyn said on Twitter she was “deeply outraged” by the case and requested an investigation from the government agency in charge of health and social affairs, Igas.
“I would like to assure her family of my full support . . . I promise her family will get all the information”.
Naomi Musenga’s elder sister, Louange, said the way she had been treated was shocking.
“She was alone, she said she was going to die, her sheets were filthy, no-one should die in these conditions.”
Describing Musenga as “bright, strong, courageous”, she added: “Naomi, as a human being . . . simply had the right to be rescued, to be cared for. This must not happen again.”
On Facebook, a page Justice pour Naomi Musenga (Justice for Naomi Musenga) has called for the “truth and justice”, while a hashtag #JusticePourNaomi has been used hundreds of times on Twitter, with some accusing the Samu of “negligence” and “racism”.
The case has also highlighted what the head of France’s association of emergency doctors sees as a crisis in the country’s ambulance service.
While condemning what happened in Strasbourg as shocking, Patrick Pelloux told Le Parisien newspaper the number of ambulance emergencies had mushroomed from eight million in 1988 to 21 million today, while the number of calls had trebled.
There were carers who were “exhausted, stressed and burnt out, who become detached from the patient’s suffering”, he said.
A former Samu worker pointed out that out of 100 calls, only 10 to 20 were real emergencies, with the majority being people who are drunk, anxious or want someone to talk to. “We’re constantly afraid of being wrong.” (BBC)