A paramedic has been suspended for a year after he mistook as drunk a man who had in fact been victim of a hit-and-run, suffering a broken back and 12 broken ribs.
Philip Gaiger, from Chessington, who was a paramedic for South East Coast Ambulance Service, was found guilty of six charges of misconduct for mistreatment at a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) hearing in London last week.
Mr Gaiger wrongly branded Matt Wonnacott, of Hawskhill Way, Esher, as “drunk as a skunk” after he was found lying on a grass verge in Courtlands Avenue, Esher, with multiple and life-threatening injuries.
A passerby found Mr Wonnacott at 4am on November 20, 2011, and the paramedic failed to establish any of his injuries and made him walk into the ambulance.
While en route to hospital, Mr Gaiger called Mr Wonnacott’s parents and said he was “absolutely plastered” and it was only on arrival to the hospital that his injuries were discovered.
Mr Wonnacott, now 27, suffered 12 broken ribs, a lacerated liver and spleen, broken tibia, collapsed lung, three broken vertebrae, broken ankle, torn ligaments and a brain injury.
The extent of Mr Wonnacott’s brain injury has yet to be fully established, but a neurologist categorised the injury as “significant”.
Mr Wonnacott was in intensive care for 10 days and in hospital for nearly a month. He has since had three surgical procedures and extensive rehabilitation.
At the hearing, Mr Gaiger was said to have not assessed the patient properly, did not identify serious underlying injuries, made the patient walk into the ambulance and did not place the patient on a stretcher, did not make a priority call to the hospital and left the patient’s family a message saying he was drunk.
Nearly 18 months after the accident it was decided that Mr Wonnacott had been involved in a hit-and-run, with forensic testing revealing a tyre tread on his shirt.
Mr Wonnacott said: “I am quite disappointed by the hearing outcome actually.
“For a paramedic to be found guilty on six allegations of serious misconduct and to only get a one-year suspension when Mr Gaiger has already retired as a paramedic is quite staggering.
“Is the panel saying that each count of the six misconduct charges, only count as a two-month suspension for each charge?
“This is not a witch hunt. I just don’t want another family or patient to go through what we have been made to go through as a result of Mr Gaiger’s actions.”
A South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust spokesman said: “We are extremely sorry for the obvious distress this incident caused the patient and his family.
“We ensured the incident was referred to the HCPC and we also conducted our own thorough investigation.
“The member of staff was suspended in November 2011 while this investigation took place.
“The investigation took place in line with the trust’s capability and disciplinary policies.
“The member of staff was disciplined and action was taken to ensure he undertook retraining to ensure he, and the trust as a whole, learned from his mistakes.”
Mr Gaiger, who retired from the ambulance service in October 2013, did not attend the hearing.