A medic has told a jury he was the only person trained to resuscitate patients at an under-staffed Sheffield A&E as the first casualties of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were brought in by ambulance.
Dr Edward Walker told the new inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans he and his colleagues were left without enough staff or equipment to cope at the Northern General Hospital.
In the first minutes after young fans began arriving with crush injuries, he said he had to abandon attempts to resuscitate one patient because there weren’t enough staff and on another occasion had to get a police officer to help him.
The court heard because the hospital’s ‘major accident plan’ was not put in place soon enough, an extra on-call anaesthetist to help him intubate patients did not arrive in the early stages.
Dr Walker, a senior house officer at Rotherham General Hospital trained in anaesthetics at the time of tragedy, drove to the Northern General Hospital while off duty after seeing the scenes from the ground on television.
He arrived at 3.20pm on April 15 and began treating incoming patients by intubating them, meaning their airways were kept open.
Extra staff did not arrive until 3.40pm or 3.45pm, the court heard.
For 15 minutes after he arrived the senior consultant in charge was not there, leaving only him, an emergency room charge nurse, a junior A&E doctor and a paediatrician.
Dr Walker was the only person present with anaesthetics training.
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquests, asked him if at any time he ‘detected any sign of the hospital’s major accident procedure having been activated’, and Dr Walker said he didn’t.
The court heard the delays in implementing the plan meant to begin with he was the only person in A&E able to intubate patients, placing a tube into the trachea to keep the airway open and help administer drugs.
The jury was told intubation was the ‘mainstay of resuscitation’.
Dr Walker later agreed he had no idea what patients would be coming through the door or how to allocate the ‘scarce resources’ at his disposal as there was an ‘information vacuum’.
Dr Walker said he treated patients in the resuscitation area and later the A&E theatre. He also treated patients in the plaster room with no access to drugs or equipment.
The court was shown an earlier report Dr Walker had written about the events of the day, which revealed he had to leave a patient in the care of a non-medical member of staff after intubating them.
Jo Delahunty QC, representing ten Hillsborough families, said to Dr Walker: “This is the first consequence of the hospital being placed in a position of not having enough notice to get the staff in the right place to get that patients.”
His report also said a police officer helped with ventilation and cardiac massage.
Ms Delahunty said: “That is a direct consequence of you being placed in a position where you are literally grabbing whatever staff resources in order to give the best level of care.”
Dr Walker replied: “Yes.”
Dr Walker said at one stage he had to abandon resuscitation attempts on a young patient because of a lack of staff.
He told the jury on young patients, medics would carry on attempts at cardiac resuscitation for a long time, and that he couldn’t recall having to abandon resuscitation at that sort of stage on a young patient.
Ms Delahunty asked him: “Had there been sufficient staff around you, you wouldn’t have had to leave that patient?” He replied: “Yes.”
The jury heard due to the large numbers of patients in cardiac arrest there were no cardiac monitors available and Dr Walker was trying to resuscitate them ‘blind’.
Ms Delahunty said to him: “You have the will and the skills but you don’t have the ability to distribute the skills to those that are arriving. You are having to make decisions in a less than optimal state in order to make sure you deliver the greatest care to the largest number of people.” He replied: “Yes.”
Describing his decision to go to the hospital, he said: “I came home from walking the dog and for some reason I am still not clear about I decided to turn on the TV. I saw BBC Grandstand coverage shortly after 3pm.
“I saw pictures of very, very packed football pens. The particular image that stuck in my mind was a fan in the level above reaching down to pick someone up from the overcrowded pen. That made me think something was going seriously wrong.
“I thought this looked like a situation that would result in casualties. “I decided I might be of more use at the hospital than I would be at the football ground.”
He arrived at the Northern General at around 3.20pm and went straight to the resuscitation area, where he got ‘vague’ information.
He said: “It was so vague. Hillsborough was also a shopping centre at the time and somebody suggested there might have been an explosion at the shopping centre. That is how vague it was.”
The inquests continue.