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 complaining of strong stomach pain, and said: “I’ll 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 – struggles to describe her pain during her call 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 have a lot of pain,” the woman replies.
The worker then tells her to call a different service, SOS Médecins, which sends doctors to a residence instead of an ambulance. “I can’t do it for you,” the operator says.
The recording also has an exchange between the operator and another staff member making fun of Musenga.
The woman later called SOS Médecins and, after a five-hour wait, was taken to a hospital.
After suffering a heart attack, she was transferred to the intensive care unit but died hours later of “multiple organ failure due to an hemorrhagic shock”, according to Le Monde newspaper (in French).
The case dates back to 27 December but only now it has been widely reported after the audio, obtained by the victim’s family, was published by a local website.
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 that her family will get all the information”.
Strasbourg University Hospitals also announced an administrative investigation “to shed light on the facts reported”.
Speaking to French broadcaster LCI, Musenga’s sister, who has not been named, said: “[Naomi] was alone, she said she was going to die, her sheets were soiled, 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.”
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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”.
But a former Samu worker told Le Parisien newspaper that out of 100 calls, only 10 to 20 are real emergencies, with the majority being people who are drunk, anxious or want someone to talk to. “We’re constantly afraid of being wrong.”