“I have gone from a strong person, who could do anything, to someone who struggles to pick up a small box from the floor.”
These are the words of a paramedic, who has been awarded £200,000 for becoming permanently disabled after falling while attending an emergency call.
Michael Kirkham, originally from Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, but now living in Brixham, Devon, has had to take early retirement since his bulky work equipment caught on a door handle in March 2003.
The grandfather, who had worked for the ambulance service for 23 years, had complained to his bosses about the safety risks of carrying 60lbs of emergency equipment in huge bags, which were brought in to replace rucksacks.
The injuries that he sustained forced the 58-year-old to use an electric wheelchair when outside the home and to become reliant on his wife for 24-hour care.
He suffered constant pain in his back and neck and was left unable to walk.
Dave Prentis, UNISON’s General Secretary, said:
“We are pleased that Michael Kirkham has received compensation that will make his life easier.
“But the money will never make up for all the stress and suffering.
“He has had to retire from a career he loved and is now permanently disabled – his life has changed forever.
“The ambulance service should have listened to the safety complaints of employees, rather than risk their health.
“They should not have waited until a dedicated worker lost his health, before making changes.”
Michael Kirkham said:
“I am pleased that my case has caused the ambulance service to change the bags and avoid further injury.
“It has been soul destroying to see my health deteriorate.
“I have had to retire, after trying to get back to work for 18 months, and am now disabled.
“For a while I used a mobility scooter, but now I get around with a stick.
“The accident also put a lot of pressure on my marriage, as I couldn’t do anything for a long time.
“If I hadn’t received help from UNISON and Thompsons I would be in a much worse position now.”
Martyn Gwyther, from Thompsons Solicitors, said:
“Mr Kirkham’s life has been turned upside down by this accident.
“A previously fit and healthy member of the community who worked hard saving other people’s lives is now reliant, in part ,on his wife to care for him.
“This is a prime example of an employer failing to listen to its staff’s health and safety concerns, and failing to provide suitable equipment for the job.”
As a community paramedic for West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Mr Kirkham was first on the scene for emergency calls made through local doctors’ surgeries.
On the day of the accident, the bag caught on the door handle of a patients’ front door, causing him to fall heavily.
He was diagnosed with a chronic shoulder injury and needed four weeks off work before struggling to return to normal duties.
A few months later he began to lose feeling in his arm and suffered constant pain in his back and neck.
His condition was initially so bad, he was unable to use his left arm or even walk short distances, and was housebound in the early stages.
West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust admitted liability and settled the claim out of court.